For Christians, the birth of Jesus lies at the heart of the Christmas celebration. However, Scripture does not ever actually make a claim as to when Jesus was born. Scholars have suggested a variety of potential dates for Jesus’ birth, but there is no real consensus on the matter. It could be the case that Jesus was born on the traditional date of December 25th, when the Christmas holiday is celebrated, but he may very well have been born on just about any other day of the year. In truth, we don’t know when Jesus was born. The New Testament authors simply do not tell us.
The exact date of Christ’s birth is not a central point of Christian doctrine. His humanity, however, is. As I argued in the previous article, the biblical authors unanimously portrayed Jesus as a real flesh-and-blood human and rejected outright those who taught otherwise. And yet, Christians do not believe that Jesus was merely human.
Jesus, Our God
The Christian presentation of Christ as the God-man is an enigma to many people. For some, the strong biblical testimony of the deity of our Lord makes it hard to believe that he is truly human in every respect. But for others, the Bible’s blunt descriptions of the humanity of Jesus seem to rule out any possibility that he could be divine. In reality, neither of these perspectives can fully account for the biblical data concerning Christ.
The shocking truth of the message of the Bible is that Jesus is God in human form. He is Emmanuel (which means God with us) in a uniquely literal sense. According to the New Testament, Jesus is divine in the very same manner as God the Father.1 Upon a full and detailed examination of the New Testament, one will find that its authors taught the deity of Jesus in a variety of remarkable and interesting ways.
Some of the strongest support found in Scripture for the deity of Christ are those texts which speak most explicitly about his incarnation. The prologue of John’s gospel exemplifies this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14, ESV). The Word (who is identified as Jesus in John 1:17) is clearly recognized as God in this passage. The text also states that Jesus was with the Father2 in the beginning, and that Jesus is the creator of all things:
Describing Jesus as the one who made all things that were made places Jesus firmly outside of the category of things that were made. Despite the frequent attempts to undermine the traditional translation of John 1:1 and its proclamation of the deity of Christ, the text is clear.3
A similar picture can be seen in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Along with these two passages, there are several other places in the New Testament where Jesus is explicitly referred to as God. For instance, Paul and Peter both plainly refer to Jesus as our “God and Savior” (Titus 2:13, 2 Pet. 1:1). Moreover, in what is perhaps one of the most climactic passages in the gospel of John, the doubting disciple Thomas, upon seeing the risen Jesus, confesses him as “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus did not reject this declaration and worship from Thomas. He freely accepted them. In fact, the New Testament depicts Jesus as being worshipped on a number of occasions. By contrast, the author of Revelation was repeatedly admonished for falling down to worship an angel (Rev. 19:10, 22:9). We must ask ourselves, could a mere mortal accept the worship of others in the face of the clear teaching of Scripture that only God is to be worshipped (Ex. 34:14)?
Jesus, Our Lord
One of the more fascinating testimonies to the deity of Christ can be found in passages where New Testament authors take Old Testament texts about God and cite them as if they were about Jesus. Consider Paul’s statement that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13, ESV). This saying is a quotation from Joel 2:32, which says that people must call upon the divine name of God in order to be saved.4 And yet, Paul readily used this quotation to say that we must call on the name of Jesus to be saved. This association of Jesus with the divine name would be absolutely unthinkable for Paul, a former Jewish Pharisee who studied under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), unless he had consciously intended to imply that Jesus is himself God. Paul knew exactly what he was doing when he made the connection to Joel 2. The New Testament is packed full of passages that identify Jesus as Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Jesus also expressed his divinity in a number of ways with his own words and actions. He declared his unity with God the Father (John 10:30), asserted his authority to work on the Sabbath (John 5:16-18), forgave sins (Luke 5:24-25), claimed the power to judge (John 5:22-23), professed to be the source of eternal life (John 3:36), and even described himself as the uncreated “I AM” (John 8:56-59).
Likewise, when Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin and was asked by the high priest whether or not he was the Messiah and the Son of God, he replied, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). In this statement, Jesus distinctly identified himself as the highly exalted “Son of Man” figure from Daniel 7:13-14, who is said to receive worship and a kingdom that will never end. It is also essential to note that Jesus’ portrayal of himself as being seated at the right hand of God, to a first century Jewish audience, would have been nothing short of blasphemous. This saying of Jesus would have been understood as claiming not only an extremely high status (God’s right hand), but also an unprecedented authority (being seated). New Testament scholar Darrell Bock describes5 the implications of Jesus’ response to the high priest like this:
These few examples should be more than enough to demonstrate that the New Testament authors, and even Jesus himself, understood and taught the deity of Christ. And yet, what I have given you in this article just barely scratches the surface of the biblical testimony concerning this doctrine.
Some opponents of the deity of Christ have unhelpfully suggested that the doctrine was not the belief of the original disciples of Jesus but a later invention foisted on the world at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. One of the many glaring flaws with theories like this one is the assumption that the New Testament did not itself originally teach the deity of Christ prior to Nicaea. This is simply not the case. We have manuscripts of New Testament texts affirming Jesus’ divinity that date much earlier than AD 325. The Greek New Testament manuscript P66, for example, which contains the prologue of John in its entirety, dates to about AD 200.
Even outside of the New Testament, the evidence clearly shows that there was early and widespread belief in the deity of Christ. For example, Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 50-117) openly proclaimed the deity of Christ in his Letter to the Ephesians with the identification, “our God, Jesus Christ”.6 Polycarp (AD 69-155) likewise testified to Jesus’ divinity in his letter to the Philippians by straightforwardly referring to him as “our Lord and God.”7 Another famous early Christian figure, Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), described Jesus as God in a number of his writings: “Therefore these words testify explicitly that He [Jesus] is witnessed to by Him [the Father] who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ.”8
These quotations, along with many others from authors such as Tatian, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Melito of Sardis, Irenaeus, and Origen, among others, establish that belief in Jesus’ deity long pre-dated any council such as that which occurred in Nicaea in AD 325. It is not simply a matter of opinion that the early Christians believed Jesus was God in human flesh. It is a matter of history.
The united witness of the New Testament authors and of the early Christians is that deity and humanity converge in the person of Jesus. This is the message of the incarnation, that God himself has taken on human flesh, and it is this truth that Christians celebrate at Christmas. The baby that was born to the virgin Mary was truly the God-Man.
Other Parts in This Series
- And yet, Jesus is also distinguished from the Father, as well as the Holy Spirit. This is the foundation of the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which asserts that God exists as one being shared by three coeternal and coequal persons. Much more could be said about the Trinity, but the focus of this article will be the biblical support for the deity of Christ.
- I refer to “the Father” here since John switches seamlessly from discussing “God” and “the Word” in the opening of the chapter to describing “the Father” and “the Son” in verse 14.
- For a detailed response to these objections, including an in-depth examination of the original Greek, check out this article by James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries.
- The divine name of God given in the Hebrew Old Testament is Yahweh. By the time of Christ, the Hebrew Scriptures had been translated into Koine Greek, which was the common language of the Roman Empire. The resulting text, known as the septuagint, translated all of the instances of the divine name from Hebrew into Greek as kurios, which means Lord. In many English translations of the Old Testament, LORD is used in all caps to indicate places where the divine name is located in the original Hebrew. Joel 2:32 is one such place.
- Darrell Bock, “Blasphemy and the Jewish Examination of Jesus,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 17, no. 1 (2007): 78.
- Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm.
- Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0136.htm.
- Translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01285.htm.