Did Jesus Think He Was God?

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 12.03.37 PMLong ago the argument was made that when someone asks the question in the title to this post, which is the question we will explore in the post, the question makes an assumption that fails to deal adequately with the actual Christian claim. Here’s how the argument works:

If we ask whether or not Jesus is God,
We assume we know who God is,
So we can explore if Jesus “fits” our understanding of God.
But the Christian claim is not simply “Jesus is God”
But God is Jesus.

I prefer that way of framing the entire issue, but the older approach has its value because it’s the way many think, and it’s the question many in apologetics seek to answer, and perhaps more important, it’s the question many skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and even Christians ask. So, to Brant Pitre’s new book we go: The Case for Jesus.

First, Pitre makes an important point: If Jesus said he was God he would have done so in very Jewish ways, not by way of running around Galilee saying, “Hey fellas, I’m the Second Person of the Trinity (which we haven’t talked about), I’m God Incarnate, and I really am God.” Rather, Jesus was Jewish and his way of revelation was Jewish.

Second, do the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) depict Jesus as God? The claim is that many think that, while John shows Jesus to be God/divine, the Synoptics do not (e.g., Bart Ehrman). Pitre:

The problem is that the claim that Jesus is not depicted as God in the Synoptic Gospels is flat-out wrong. The only way to hold such a claim is to completely ignore both the miracles of Jesus in which he acts as if he is the one God, as well as the sayings of Jesus in which he speaks as if he is the one God. We will look at the sayings of Jesus in the next chapter. For now, let us focus on three of Jesus’s most startling deeds—(1) the stilling of the storm, (2) the walking on water, and (3) 
the Transfiguration—in which he acts precisely as if he is the God described in the Jewish Scriptures (121).

On the stilling of the storm, which if it happened (Brant does not prove historicity, but assumes historicity, and I agree it happened), says something about Jesus:

If you go back to the Jewish Scriptures and read them with this account in mind, you will discover something extremely important. Over and over again, the Old Testament emphasizes how the God of the universe displays his power by controlling two of the most powerful forces in creation: the wind and the sea (123). [E.g. Psalm 107.]

On walking on water, and the “I am”:

He is revealing his divine identity to them. Just as the LORD revealed his divine name to Moses in the context of his display of power over creation in the burning bush, so too Jesus reveals his divine name to the disciples in the context of his display of power over creation when he walks on water (129).

[He has a good section on “pass them by” which is language about divine disclosure.]

On the transfiguration, and who Jesus is:

On the mountain of the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah are finally allowed to see what they could not see during their earthly lives: the unveiled face of God. How is this possible? Because the God who appeared to them on Mount Sinai has now become man. In Jesus of Nazareth, the one God now has a human face (133).

I would put it this way: this is not a debate about Is Jesus God? so much as it is a debate about Is the witness of Scripture to Jesus true?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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