Was Jesus a blasphemer? Or was he divine? He can’t be both!

Last year, Bart Ehrman wrote a book that got a lot of attention in the media for its discussion of Jesus as a man who was exalted to the status of deity by his followers later in the history of the church. And just recently, another author, James Tabor, wrote in Huffington Post that “it’s complicated” – stating that he himself believes Jesus to be only an “apocalyptic proclaimer of the kingdom of God.”

Men can claim that Jesus never said “I am the son of God,” but Jesus never once denied the concept, and in fact encouraged it through the acceptance of worship and implied it through the discussions of his own preeminence and authority to forgive sins and to judge all mankind. Would that not make him the greatest blasphemer that the world has ever known?

The argument essentially states that Jesus never claimed to be the son of God, and that the concept of his deity evolved in part as a response to the Roman concept of the emperor as god. Once Christians decided that Jesus was God, they had to formulate doctrine to explain how Jesus could be God and man simultaneously, and how God could be Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the same time. And that, they say, is the origin of what most would consider “mainstream Christian doctrine” on Jesus.

So did Jesus ever claim to be deity? Did his apostles in the first century really believe it? Did the writers of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke really intend for Jesus to be seen as merely a great prophet?

Let’s just accept for the moment the argument that for some reason, the gospel of John “doesn’t count.” It’s certainly true that John’s account was written somewhere around 30 years after the three “synoptic” gospels. And it’s also true that John’s account is much more direct and specific in the concept of Jesus’ deity than were those other three. Many argue today that John developed this theology at a later date, and that his teachings on Jesus were the result of an evolution of thought – one that apparently he must not have held early on in his role as an apostle standing alongside Matthew, Peter and James – three other prominent leaders in the early church who like John had lived and listened to Jesus preach for three years.

I believe the gospels clearly speak to Jesus’ divinity, even before the book of John was written. I believe the arguments that Jesus never claimed to be the son of God are, at best, misguided. And there is plenty of evidence in those three books that causes real issues for them if examined carefully.

Jesus’ authority over sin and the law

Let’s look at some of the teachings and statements of Jesus. Ask yourself if you ever read Moses or Elijah or any other prophet of God making these sort of claims. For example, Jesus claimed to have the power to forgive sins. He did this in Luke 5 during his healing of a paralytic man in Galilee.

Luke 5:17-26 17: On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the man who was paralyzed — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Jesus claimed for himself absolute authority to interpret the Law of Moses. He made statements to this effect throughout the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5-7, saying things such as “You have heard… but I say unto you…,” leading Matthew to leave this description of the crowd’s reaction (to which he was witness): that he taught “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

Jesus did not couch his teaching in the words of a humble human teacher who does not claim to have complete knowledge on a subject. Jesus revealed to us how the mind of God works: it sees our hearts and it interprets our motives and it judges us accordingly. Would we accept a mere man telling us that he knows God’s mind well enough to tell us something about God that we don’t see in scripture?

Jesus takes on the role of eternal judge

But Jesus takes that a step further past the idea of forgiving sins. In the same passage, he sets himself up as the one who will eventually judge all mankind. In Matt 7:21-23, what sometimes gets missed in the discussion of the judgment scene is that Jesus says: “On that day, many shall say to ME…” [emphasis mine]. Some Christians have assigned Peter as the “gatekeeper” of the kingdom of Heaven, but it is Jesus who claims for himself the role of judge over whether a person will be allowed entrance.

In Matthew 16, he says: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

Jesus accepted worship.

When Peter went out to see the Gentile centurion named Cornelius to talk to him about the gospel (Acts 10), Cornelius fell down at his feet and worshipped – no doubt feeling that Peter arriving in conjunction with the angel’s previous instructions meant that Peter was an agent of God and a higher being of some sort. But Peter refused that act, saying “Stand up; I too am a man.” I think most of us would agree that Peter did the right thing, and that allowing someone to worship him as God would have been no different than the attitude for which Herod is killed just two chapters later. Peter wasn’t God, and God is the only one for whom worship is appropriate. Even the angels themselves did not accept worship (Rev. 19:10, Heb. 1:13-14).

And yet, when the same Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” Jesus did not correct him. In fact, he says “Blessed are you, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but MY father who is in Heaven.” In fact, Jesus goes on to state that “upon this rock, I will build MY church” [emphasis mine]. That’s found in the 16th chapter of Matthew – one of the books that many claim does not teach that Jesus is the son of God. And it is only one of many instances where disciples or observers state this belief!

Jesus didn’t claim for himself the title of “son of God.” He didn’t have to. As he told the Pharisees, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Some things are so evident that they don’t have to be specifically said, and Jesus does not use the specific words. It’s reminiscent of the Jews demanding that Jesus speak openly about his identity during his trial:

Luke 22:67-70: “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”

When John was approached by people in the wilderness asking if he was the messiah, he denied it. He refused to allow anyone to believe of him something that untrue, something which elevated him above his proper status. John was humble. But so was Jesus; and yet we are to believe that the man who washed his disciples’ feet and said that the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven would be a servant – the one who said “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God”- would sit silently by as people either stated their faith in his identity as the son of God or accused him of teaching that he WAS the son of God.

It seems inconceivable. Unless, of course, he agreed with them.

Men can claim that Jesus never said “I am the son of God,” but Jesus never once denied the concept, and in fact encouraged it through the acceptance of worship and implied it through the discussions of his own preeminence and authority to forgive sins and to judge all mankind. Would that not make him the greatest blasphemer that the world has ever known?

As a Christian, I know him as something much greater than that.

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