Did Jesus claim to be the son of God?

January 1st, 2012 in Belief. Tags: , , , ,

Jesus

There is an old argument, used for example by CS Lewis, that Jesus claimed to be divine, something a good and sane person would not do. Therefore Jesus must either have not been good, or not sane, or he was indeed divine.

But the argument depends on Jesus actually claiming to be divine, which critics do not concede these days.

So has the argument been refuted, or can we know that Jesus did indeed claim to be divine?

Using historical evidence

Christians believe the Bible has special status as a book inspired by God, but sceptics don’t accept this. We therefore cannot assume this in approaching this question. We must start, then, with the conclusions of the most respected and impartial historical scholars, who don’t treat the Gospels as divinely inspired, but treat them as they would any other historical documents.

So our task is to determine if we can draw any conclusions from the facts which most historians accept.

Did Jesus claim to be divine?

Using passages which even non-christian historians generally accept as genuine, an impressive case can be built, using the following (for a more detailed discussion, see Jesus – son of God?):

  1. Jesus believed he was inaugurating God’s kingdom on earth. He taught that God’s judgment of people would be based on how they responded to him. He believed his death would save the human race. And he told his disciples one day they would sit at his side and rule over the nation of Israel. All of these indicate he saw himself as God’s special representative on earth.
  2. Jesus used the titles Messiah, Son of man and Son of God to describe himself. These also are claims to be God’s special representative on earth, and there are several passages where Jesus clearly identified himself as God’s son in a way no human being could be – for example Mark 12:1-9 and Matthew 11:27: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
  3. Jesus claimed divine authority when he forgave sins, performed healings and exorcisms, and said his teachings had greater authority than the God-given Old testament Law.
  4. Jesus prayed to God as “Abba”, “My Father”, an expression of a familiar relationship with God.

I have not used the many “I am” statements in John’s gospel because many scholars do not accept that John records the words of Jesus, but rather his own interpretation of Jesus’ teachings.

What should we believe?

It seems clear, even using only passages that most scholars accept as genuine, that Jesus made some amazing claims that he was more than a “mere man”, and some which can only be reasonably interpreted as making an implicit claim to be divine. New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham sums it up:

The only Jesus we can plausibly find in the sources is a Jesus who, though usually reticent about it, speaks and acts for God in a way that far surpassed the authority of a prophet in the Jewish tradition. …. such prerogatives belong uniquely to God and cannot simply be delegated to someone else.

Not all scholars will accept Jesus’ divinity as a fact of history, but using the facts they do accept a case can be made that Jesus did indeed claim to be divine – and therefore the old argument still stands. To negate the argument, we have to go against the conclusions of the consensus of historians. Each of us can make our own judgment on that.

6 Comments

  1. Again, you use the plural, “Scholars” and only cite one – who is an apologist. Of course he will say the character of Jesus was divine.
    Yet, it is worth considering that at the time of the Council of Nicea much of the Eastern Church was Aryan – including Eusebius, and this was one of the first heresies to be stamped out after Jesus’ divinity was written into church and Roman Law.
    If there was no doubt then there would have been no need to make it law.
    Your post establishes nothing other than your own opinion.

  2. G’day Akhenaten, I have to comment the same here as elsewhere – there is a more detailed discussion with references elsewhere on this website, and which I generally reference in the blog posts. In this case, see Jesus – son of God? and Jesus in history. In this case, the argument is built on passages that most scholars accept as genuine because they are multiply attested, and I haven’t tried to give full references to them – this is a blog, after all, not a journal paper!

    But do you contest that many of the passages are widely accepted as genuine?

    I’m a little peeved by your reference to Richard Bauckham as “an apologist” for two reasons:

    1. What is your criterion for an apologist? Bauckham is an established and respected scholar at a good university, with many books to his credit. Yes he is a christian, but that isn’t reason to write him off – most of the scholars I quote (Ehrman, Grant, Sanders) are not believers, but that doesn’t mean I write them off. It just sounds like “poisoning the well” and “ad hominem” fallacies to me. What reason do you have to write him off?

    2. I didn’t quote him to establish the facts of the matter (that most scholars would accept the passages I quote as genuine), but to support my conclusion – not as an authority, but as a well-worded summary.

    I appreciated your unintended humour with “Aryan”! But I am not at all fussed by the facts you mention. There is good evidence of Jesus’ divinity in the NT, but I have no doubt it took some time for the early christians to work out exactly what they believed – see How did Jesus become God?.

    “Your post establishes nothing other than your own opinion.”
    I think a blog always expresses the author’s opinion. But that isn’t all I established – I also showed that a reasonable case for Jesus’ divinity can be constructed from passages that most scholars accept as genuine. I didn’t expect all readers to agree, but it is still a reasonable case.

  3. Again, this is interpretation. If the character of Jesus was divine then why all the ambiguity?
    Why not reference a secular expert on his/her beliefs re Jesus’ divinity?
    Or, better still, why not reply on the Arian issue? There were plenty of them around until the Church set about liquidating heretics.
    If the issue was cut and dried there would never have been any controversy amongst believers…which there still is today.
    Your arguement is not convincing, irrespective of the experts you quote, and like most believers their POV is largely subjective. Which brings into question the motive behind running a blog on such a subject?
    Are you airing your views merely to clear your mind? Writing is said to be cathartic.
    Are you hoping to attract like minded folks? (clearly this is not happening yet)
    Or do you feel you, like so many others, have to write about it to reassure youtr own doubts and fears?
    Nate found out, I wonder if you will too?

  4. “Why not reference a secular expert on his/her beliefs re Jesus’ divinity?”

    I would have thought that was quite clear. Historians, archaeologists, literary and textual experts, etc, all have expertise I and most people don’t have – access to documents, artefacts and technical papers; knowledge of languages, history and culture; experience in excavations; put of which comes the ability to make a batter judgment about the historical evidence. Only a fool would think he or she could properly understand and interpret the data themselves – even the experts rely on each other, peer review and second opinions. I am (hopefully) not a fool, so I reference them and trust the general consensus.

    But when it comes to drawing a conclusion about whether I can and should trust Jesus or believe he was divine, they are no more expert that I am. So I hear their views on all the background to that decision, and then I make it.

    “Which brings into question the motive behind running a blog on such a subject?”

    I’m afraid your guesses are wide of the mark. I want to help open minded people find the truth. I think I have some understanding of the truth, so I seek to share it. Those who don’t want to know or who, like you, think it is not the truth, are welcome to read and comment, but fortunately others read and are encouraged or helped.

    unkleE found the truth, I wonder if you will too? Lol!

  5. I think, maybe you have misread/missunderstood the first part of the question. Your reply is confusing.

    You want to help open minded people? Well I am open minded, which is why after doing research on a piece I was working on about Moses I was surprised to find no extra-biblical information on this character and this was the beginning of continual research into biblical history etc.
    I was opn minded about everything biblicasl at that stage and approached the subject with a ‘show me’ attitude as I was willing to learn.
    Yet there is nothing to learn, other than the evidence leads one to the knowledge that it is all mostly errant.

    So, what open-minded people do you refer to?
    Nate, for example, strikes me as one of the most open-minded individuals I have encountered and yet, he does not visit your blog/site and does not even engage you on your forum. Why?
    Because he realises the futility of discussing with a reborn/evangelical Christian who does not really seek the truth, merely a version that disregards commonsense and glaring evidence that is contrary to any inference of biblical claims of divinity.
    This is not truth. It is disingenious and spurious.

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