Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17).
As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history.
In resolving the issue of Jesus’ identity, I highly recommend the book by R.M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski called Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ. The following comments are helpful:
If Jesus really is the divine Son of God incarnate, and if he did rise from the dead, appear to his disciples, and ascend into heaven, the origin of the New Testament teaching about Jesus is Jesus Himself. The multiplicity of strained theories attempting to account for this teaching in another way attest to the difficulty of coming up with as explanation that is superior to the one given in the New Testament. (1)
As Richard Bauckham says:
Some recent work on New Testament Christology seems to be working with the conviction that it is only possible to understand how a high Christology could have developed within a Jewish monotheistic framework if we can show that something like it already existed in pre- Christian Judaism.That is a mistake.The concern of early Christology was not to conform Jesus to some pre-existing model of an intermediate figure subordinate to God. The concern of early Christology was to understand the identification of Jesus with God.(2)
A few things shall be mentioned here: If you want to study this topic further, there are other articles on this website that deal with the reliability of the New Testament. However, I am starting with the following premises and conclusion.
1.The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2.The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by a unique convergence of miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3.Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.
Let us look at the following points:
#1 : Jesus as a Healer and Exorcist/His Miracles
A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. Miracles have a distinctive purpose: to glorify the Creator and to provide evidence for people to believe by accrediting the message of God through the prophet of God. (3) For those that are just emphatic that the natural world is all there is, see The Argument from Miracles by Daniel Bonevac.
Anyway, Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “ ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2). In his great sermon on Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).(4)
Jesus also believed that his miracles were part of his messianic credentials. In Matthew 11:13, John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In response to John, Jesus showed his messianic self-consciousness by asserting that miracles serve as an evidential feature of his messianic identity. Jesus responded to John’s question by saying,
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4–6; see also Lk. 7:22).
The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Is.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in Matt.11: 4-6:
“He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.”
As Howard Kee, specialist in the study of Gospel miracles says, “The OT Judaism God is the one who heals all of Israel’s diseases. Jesus in effect takes God’s place as the healer of Israel.” Jesus’ authority is evident as his role as an exorcist. He said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, than the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). This is significant for 3 reasons:(1) it shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over evil; (2) It shows Jesus believed the kingdom of God had arrived; in Judaism, the kingdom would come at the end of history; (3) Jesus was in effect saying that in himself, God had drawn near, therefore He was putting himself in God’s place. (5)
Also, in the Tanakh, God is the only one to master the forces of nature with His word alone. God is the one who threatens the stormy waters, in passages such as (Ps. 104:7; 29:3; 77:16). It also says in Ps. 89:9, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them,” and in Ps. 65:7, “You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves.” Just as the God of Israel, we see that Jesus demonstrates the ability to have power over nature. We see this in passages such as Mk. 4:35-41; Lk. 8: 22-25.
Within the context of first-century Jewish miracle workers, how much weight should be given to Jesus’ miracles? As Ben Witherington III says,
“The miracles themselves raise the question but do not fully provide the answer of who Jesus was; what is important from an historical point of view is not the miracle themselves, which were not unprecedented, but Jesus’ unique interpretation of the miracles as signs of the dominion’s inbreaking, and also the signs of who he was: the fulfiller of the Old Testament promises about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the like.” (6)
One of the most prominent scholars in the current debate on the historical Jesus is author Geza Vermes. In his book, Jesus the Jew, Vermes documents two healers that were known in rabbinic literature. One was Honi, “the Circle Drawer” and Hanina ben Dosa. In comparing the miracles of Jesus and Honi the Circle Drawer, the records of Honi’s miracles are from are the Mishnah (c. A.D. 200 and from Josephus (c. A.D. 90). (7) The accounts of Hanina ben Dosa are taken from the Mishnah and the Talmud (c. A.D. 500). (8) Therefore, in comparing both of these figures to the historical Jesus, it is evident that the historical documents we have for Jesus’ miracles are much closer to the events themselves.
In comparing these healers with Jesus, we also see some other glaring differences. Honi had no control over the forces of nature, but he could ask God for rain. Other Jewish exorcists resorted to power other then themselves through prayer to send away demons. They even invoked “powerful” names such as those of God and Solomon. (9) Jesus was quite different because when He did a healing He did not “receive” power before he drove out the spirits; He did it with a simple, powerful word that was His own. Rather than invoking the name of Solomon, he said “Behold, something greater than the wisdom of Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). (10) Furthermore, Jesus did not ask God to quiet the storm or calm the waves; He did with His own word (11).
#2: Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate
Another way of looking at Jesus’ deity draws on Israel’s Wisdom literature. Israel’s Wisdom literature includes books such as Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Protestants do not accept Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon as part of their canon. In examining the following texts, it can be observed there are amazing similarities. Hence, it would be hard to deny that the “high” Christology of the New Testament was not greatly influenced by Wisdom Christology. First century Jews were strongly monotheistic, so to them, the figure of Wisdom was not a second God. Wisdom is described not only as a personification of God, but as a separate person from God. Here are some of the Wisdom texts:
- Wisdom: is seen with God at creation (Prov. 8: 27-30; Wis. 9:9; Sir. 1:1). Jesus: is seen with God at creation (John 1: 8).
- Wisdom: God created the world by Wisdom (Wis. 7:22; 9:1-2; Prov. 8:27). Jesus: God created the world by the Word (Jesus) (John 1:3).
- Wisdom: Is the “pure emanation of the glory of God” (Wis. 7:25-26). Jesus: is the “Reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15).
- Wisdom: Invitation to draw near, bear Wisdom’s yoke and learn (Sir. 51:23). Jesus: Invitation to draw near and take “my yoke….and learn from me (Matt 11: 28).
- Wisdom: Whoever finds wisdom finds life (Prov. 8: 35; Bar. 4:1). Jesus: Is the giver of life (John 6: 33-35; 10:10).
- Wisdom: People reject Wisdom and find ruin (Prov. 1: 24-31; 8:36; Sir 15:7). Jesus: People who reject Wisdom are lost (John 3:16-21).
- Wisdom: Has its dwelling place in Israel (Sir. 34:8; Wis. 9:10; Prov. 8:31). Jesus: Has come from God into the world (John 1:1; 9-11). (12)
“His wisdom shall exceed even that of King Solomon; he shall be greater than all the patriarchs, greater than all the prophets after Moses, and in many respects even more exalted than Moses. His stature and honor shall exceed that of all the kings before him. He will be an extraordinary prophet, second only to Moses, with all the spiritual and mental qualities that are prerequisites to be endowed with the gift of prophecy.” Jesus spoke about this messianic qualification 2,000 years ago. As it says in Matt. 12:42; Lk. 11:31: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.”
As Oskar Skarsaune says:
Jesus appears in roles and functions that burst all previously known categories in Judaism. He was a prophet, but more than a prophet. He was a teacher but taught with a power and authority completely unknown to the rabbis. He could set his authority alongside of, yes, even “over” God’s authority in the Law. He could utter words with creative power. In a Jewish environment zealous for the law, only one category was “large enough” to contain the description of Jesus: the category of Wisdom. (13)
#3: Jesus and His Authority
There is also a relationship between Jesus as the figure of Wisdom and Torah. The rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2) ; Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them” (Matt 18:20). The rabbis could speak about being persecuted for God’s sake, or in his Name’s sake, or for the Torah’s sake; Jesus spoke about being persecuted for and even loosing one’s life for his sake. Remember, the prophets could ask people to turn to God, to come to God for rest and help. Jesus spoke with a new prophetic authority by stating, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). As Skarsaune says,
“Jesus is Wisdom in person. That is why he, in his own name, with the one I, can deepen radically, even correct Torah; not by abrogating it, not by doing it away, but by making it complete.”
Many Jewish scholars believe that it is not the content of Jesus’ preaching in and of itself that sets Him apart and differentiates Him from other rabbis of his own time. What distinguished Him is the manner in which His own person, His own “I” manifests itself. (14)
The Swedish rabbi Marcus Eherenpreis says,
“A difference appears immediately that from the very beginning constituted an unbridgeable wall of separation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus spoke in His own name. Judaism on the other hand, knew the one I, the divine Anochi (the Hebrew word for I) who gave us the eternal commandments at Sinai. No other superhuman has existed in Judaism other than God. Jesus sermons began, “I say to you.” Here is a clash between that goes to the inner core of religion. Jesus’ voice had an alien sound that that Jewish ears had never heard before. For Judaism, the only revealed teaching of God was important, not the teacher’s personal ego. Moses and the prophets were human beings encumbered with shortcomings. Hillel and his successors sat where Moses sat.” (15)
In their book Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ, authors R.M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski note again that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cites not one single rabbi or religious authority. Instead, he says “I say to you,” thirteen times in this one sermon (Matt. 5:18,20,22,28,32,34,39,44;6:2,5,16,25,29). He even challenged his hearers to base their own lives on his words (Matt. 7:24,26). Within the Tanakh, the prophets would introduce God’s message with a formula such “thus says the Lord” (over 400 times) or “the word of the Lord came” to such and such a prophet (about 100 times). As just stated, Jesus introduced his comments by saying “I say to you” (about 145 times).
What is even more significant is that seventy four or seventy-five times, Jesus used the introductory locution that appears to be unparalleled: “Amen I say to you” (often translated “Truly I say to you”). Scholars have found no precedent in the Tanakh, nor have scholars found any precedent in the rest of ancient Jewish literature.
#4: The Son of Man
“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, his suffering and resurrection (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33); Third, his eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31). (16)
In other words, there is a correlation between the returning Son of Man and the judgment of God. The term “Son of Man” in the time of Jesus was a most emphatic reference to the Messiah (Dan. 7:13-14). The title reveals divine authority. In the trial scene in Matthew 26:63-64, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Dan. 7:13 and Ps. 110:1 to Himself. Jesus’ claim that he would not simply be entering into God’s presence, but that he would actually be sitting at God’s right side was the equivalent to claiming equality with God. By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, he was exercising the authority of God. Interestingly enough, there is a Midrash on Psalm 2:7. The passage begins with the text in which the comment is made -“I will declare the decree of the Lord. He said unto me, ‘Thou art my son” -and continues as follows:
The children of Israel are declared to be sons in the decree of the Law, in the decree of the Prophets, and in the decree of the Writings. In the decree of the Law it is written. Thus saith the Lord: Israel is my Son, My firstborn (Ex. 4:22). In the decree of the Prophets it is written, Behold my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high (Is.52:13), and it is also written, Behold my servant who I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth (Is.42:1). In the decree of the Writings it is written, The Lord said unto my Lord: “Sit thou at My right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps.110.1), and it is also written, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and became even to the ancient of days and he was brought near before him. And him given a dominion” (Dan. 7:13-14).
In another comment, the verse is read I will tell of the decree: The Lord said unto me: Thou are my son… Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession (Ps.7,8). R Yudan said: All these godly promises are in the decree of the King, the King of kings, who will fulfill them for the lord Messiah. And why all this? Because Messiah occupies himself with Torah. (Midrash on Psalms, trans. W.G. Braude, 2 vols., Yale Judaica Series, no 13 (New Haven, 1959), 1:40.
Even though it is not included in the Bible, 1 Enoch 48.2-10, is a significant passage that discusses the diivine aspects of the Messiah/ Son of Man:
“At that hour, that Son of Man was given a name, in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits, the Before-Time; even before the creation of the sun and the moon, before the creation of the stars, he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits. He will become a staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on him and not fall. He is the light of the gentiles and he will become the hope of those who are sick in their hearts. All those who dwell upon the earth shall fall and worship before him; they shall glorify, bless, and sing the name of the Lord of the Spirits. For this purpose he became the Chosen One; he was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of the Spirits) prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity. And he has revealed the wisdom of the Lord of the Spirits to the righteous and holy ones, for he has preserved the portion of the righteous because they have hated and despised this world of oppression (together with) all its ways of life and its habits and it is his good pleasure that they have life. …For they (the wicked kings and landowners) have denied the Lord of the Spirits and his Messiah.” (17)
The Son of Man term also has a direct relationship as to how Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. As it says in Mark 2:28, “so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Ben Witherington III says,
Now in Jewish theology, God of course was the Creator of the universe who set up the sabbatical pattern in the first place, and rested on the seventh day (see Gen. 1). Since God had created the Sabbath, only God was the Lord thereof. Yet here, Jesus’ claims, as Son of man, to be Lord over the Sabbath, and claims that He can reinterpret the Sabbath to mean, this is the perfect day to give sick people “rest” from their illnesses, even though this activity constitutes work by any Old Testament definition. In other words, as Son of man, Jesus felt He could rewrite the Sabbath rules. Why? Because He was Lord over the Sabbath and its proper observance now that God’s divine saving activity was breaking into human history through Him. (18)
#5 : Jesus and Blasphemy in Judaism
Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? We have already discussed Jesus’ application of the Son of Man title to Himself (see above). Also, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12).
Forgiving sins was a prerogative of God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7;Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9; Jonah 4:) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person.In Mark 14:58, it says,”We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man. It is also evident that one reasons Jesus was accused of blasphemy was because He usurped God’s authority by making himself to actually be God (Jn. 10:33, 36). Not only was this considered by the Jews to be blasphemous, it was worthy of the death penalty (Matt. 26:63-66; Mk. 14:61-65; Lk. 22:66-71; Jn. 10:31-39; 19:7)
#6: Jesus as the Judge of Mankind/His Claim to Determine People’s Eternal Destiny
In Luke 12:8-9, Jesus says, “I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Jesus says that people will be judged based on their response to Him. Within Judaism, only the God of Israel was the judge of man (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 50:4,6; Psalm 96:13). Psalm 7:11 states, God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” Psalm 50:6 also says, “Let the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is Judge” while Psalm 75:7 declares, “But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.” Even Abraham, one of the Jewish patriarchs, acknowledged that the Lord God is “the Judgeof all the earth ”(Gen 18:25).
There are numerous passages in the New Testament that attest to Jesus and His authority to execute judgment. The first is seen in John 5:22-23: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Other passages that expose the relationship between Jesus and judgment are in Paul’s speech in Athens, when he states that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his truth. The judgment will be conducted by an agent, a man who God has appointed.” Since Paul treats the resurrection as a historical fact, he uses it as a proof of God’s appointment as Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead! Another Pauline passage about judgment is 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
#7: Jesus as the Son of God
One of the most important Christological titles for Jesus is “Son of God.” If we want to know whether or not “Son of God” is a divine title, and if Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God,” what did He mean by it? John Dominic Crossan, of the Jesus Seminar claims that the early second century Roman historian Seutonius portrays the Emperor Augustus as having a divine father. Crossan concludes that since he was a “son of God,” Jesus is portrayed as having a divine paternity. Therefore, this is a case of using a literary device to honor a great person. In other words, the title “Son of God” is simply used as a title for a great man. So if Crossan is right, did the early Jewish believers view the term “Son of God” as related to Jesus’ divinity? (19)
As already stated, in Ps. 2:2-7 we see the relationship between the term “Son of God” and the King of Israel. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed [that’s the word for Messiah]. . . . Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” Therefore, when the Jewish people heard the term “Son of God” they mostly associated it with a king. The God of Israel is identified as King: (1 Sam. 12:12; Ps 24:10; Is. 33:22; Zeph. 3:15; Zech. 14:16-17), as ruler over Israel (Ex. 15:18; Num. 23;21; Deut 33:5; Is. 43:15), and ruler over the entire creation. His reign is ongoing (Ps.10:16; 146:10; Is. 24:23), and rule and kingship belong to Him (Ps. 22:28). (20)
Dead Sea Scroll specialists such as Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint have shown that the writings that were found at Qumran show that divine sonship was clearly a part of the Royal- Christian rhetoric of pre-Christian Judaism. In relation to the “Son of God” term, these passages that were read during this period were referring to the Davidic King. The “Son of God” term is seen in the fragment known as (4Q246), Plate 4, columns one and two. (21) In relation to this issue, within the Psalms, we see that God and His anointed king are described in ways that are equal in status and they are both qualified to be worthy of the same worship and reverence. The Hebrew words for worship, praise, service, and adoration that are used in the Bible with reference to God are also used to refer to the Messiah, the Davidic king. (22) Evans and Flint say the following:
Labels such as “Son of God,” and “Son of Man” cannot be removed from Jewish Messianism and relegated to later, Hellenistic Christianity. The title “Son of God,” is not a product of the church that arbitrary changed “Son of God” from designating a messianic king to denoting a figure of heavenly origin. (23)
In the end, everyone has to ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” I could write much more about this topic. But I hope it has caused you to go deeper on this issue.
1. Bowman, R.M. and J.E. Komoszewski. Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications. 2007,253-254.
3. Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 45
5. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.
6. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12.
7. Theissen, G. and Annette Merz. The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, 281-315.
9. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact? St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House: 1991, 35-36.
10. Ibid, 37.
12. Holmgren, F.C., The Old Testament: The Significance of Jesus-Embracing Change-Maintaining Christian Identity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1999, 157.
13. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact? St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House: 1991, 37.
14. ______. In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity. Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press. 2002, 331.
15. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact?, 33-34.
16. Cullman, O. The Christology of the New Testament. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press. 1963, 137-88.
17. See Ben Witherington III. The Many Faces of the Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond. New York. Crossraod Publishing Company. 1998.
19. Habermas, G. R. and M.R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications. 2004, 168.
20. Baker, D. Looking Into The Future: Evangelical Studies In Eschatology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2001, 33.
21. See Evans, C.A. and P. W. Flint. Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1997.
22. Brown, M. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 2. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2000, 40-41.
23. Evans, C.A. and P. W. Flint. Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, 140.