Photo Credit: © genotar1 – Fotolia.com
One day, not long after I’d become a Christian, a Jewish friend of mine (not a believer), challenged me as follows. He argued that Jesus never called himself God and that the church had much later made Jesus into a god. He said that the Bible nowhere called Jesus God. Is that true?
All good lies need an element of truth to them, or they wouldn’t be believed. It’s remarkable in fact that the Bible hardly ever calls Jesus God. Why doesn’t it just come out and say it? Why didn’t Jesus just come out and say: “I’m God”? Could my Jewish friend be right?
Well, the Bible actually does just come out and say that Jesus is God, and frankly, so does Jesus. But the whole topic of Jesus’ deity is more complicated than just saying that he is God. To say Jesus is God is actually ambiguous! Does that mean that the Father isn’t God? Or that Jesus is the Father come to earth? Saying “Jesus is God” could be misunderstood in many ways, even though it is true. There are in fact much more accurate ways of saying that Jesus is God.
The Bible actually does just come out and say that Jesus is God. In Titus 2:13 Paul says that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. Likewise Romans 9:5 and Hebrews 1:8-9. However these references are surprisingly few. Why is that? I think it’s because such statements could be ambiguous and open to misinterpretation. It is true that Jesus is God. But that is not the full story. God is a Trinity. Therefore there are more full and accurate ways of expressing Jesus’ deity.
My favourite verse that expresses Jesus’ deity in an unambiguous way is Colossians 2:9 “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (so too Colossians 1:19). Everything that God is was present in Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the exact representation physically of God (Hebrews 1:3). Everything that God is, Jesus is. The whole fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus.
So I’m not surprised that Jesus didn’t say “I am God”. He was more accurate than that. He said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and that when we’ve seen Jesus we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9). The unbelieving Jews at the time certainly understood what he meant. They tried to stone him for blasphemy (John 10:31, 33). God is a Trinity, and Jesus expressed the fact that he is God in those terms. It would have been far more ambiguous and open to misunderstanding if he had just said “I am God”.
There are many more passages to which I could refer. Revelation 4-5 is a personal favourite of mine, for instance. But the conclusion is clear. Jesus understood that he was God in the flesh and so does the rest of the New Testament. But there are surprisingly few references that just come out and say “Jesus is God”. However once we understand the nature of Jesus’ relationship with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) as a Trinitarian God, then the references we have can be seen to be fuller and more accurate assertions of Jesus’ deity.