On a recent flight the person next to me asked, “Why do you believe God is a person?” Bob was an accomplished CEO and a very thoughtful person who had converted to Tibetan Buddhism. Over the next two hours I shared that I believe God is a person for five reasons, which I am summarizing in this series. The fourth reason I shared with Bob is the evidence that Jesus is God in flesh. Since Jesus is God, and Jesus is a person, God is a person. I offered a number of arguments to believe Jesus is God.
Accounts of Jesus’ Life are First-Rate History
I began the conversation noting that there is very good evidence that the accounts of the life of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are excellent historical sources. Therefore, we have four eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus that tell us much about whom he claimed to be. Bob granted this point, and so I didn’t go into the evidence for this claim. Had he wanted to discuss it further, I would have talked with him about how one verifies allegedly historical documents. Then I would have put the four gospel accounts to these tests, which show they are far and above the best historical accounts of the period. I will blog about this more in the future. But now, on to the conversation Bob and I had.
Jesus Directly Claimed to be God
The first thing to note is that Jesus made direct claims to be God. Sometimes we hear that Jesus never said this, and only claimed to be a religious teacher. Nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, in the Jewish Scriptures, God identifies himself as the great “I AM”—a name signifying that God is everlasting:
Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" 14) God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.'"(Exodus 3:13-14)
In John 8, the religious leaders ask Jesus directly who he is. He used this name of himself, claiming to be the great I AM:
"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:57-8)
His hearers had no problem understanding his claim to be the eternal God, for “At this, they picked up stones to stone him...” (John 8:59), the punishment for such an audacious claim.
A similar exchange occurs in John 10:30-33:
“I and the Father are one." Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
Some say Jesus was merely claiming to be one with God in purpose. However, the context shows he was claiming much more. The Jews were not ready to stone him for claiming to share God’s purpose (which they all had) but to share God’s nature or essence. (See also John 5:18: “For this reason, the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”)
Jesus Often Indirectly Claimed to be God
Beyond such direct claims, Jesus often said and did things that only God can do and say. For instance, in Matthew 18:20 he claims the ability to be in more than one place at the same time: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” He makes a similar claim in Matthew 28:20: “…I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Only God is omnipresent.
Jesus also assumed he had the authority to change the Jewish Law, which only God had the authority to do. In Matthew 5:19 he warns others about changing the Law, but then immediately he changes it himself by saying, “It is written…but I say to you…” (Matthew 5:21-22, Matthew 5:27-28, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 5:33-34, Matthew 5:38-39, and Matthew 5:43-44)
Jesus forgave sins, which only God can do. This is a third clear sign to everyone that he was claiming he was God:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:5-7)
Jesus also accepted worship from others, another indirect claim that he was God. God commands his people in the Ten Commandments to worship Him and Him alone (Exodus 20:3-4). Jesus reiterates this in Matthew 4:10: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” But then he turns right around and lets his followers worship him:
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:32-33)
This occurs again in John 9:38: “Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshipped him.” For other examples see Matt 28:8-17 and John 20:26-28. Jesus would only accept the worship of others if he believed he was in fact, God.
Another indirect way Jesus communicated his deity was accepting the names and titles reserved only for God. The term “Messiah” was reserved for God incarnate (“For unto us a child is born…And he will be called Mighty God.” (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus identifies himself as this long-awaited Messiah, allowing others to use this name for him: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ’We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ)” (John 1:41) At other times he says directly that he is the Messiah (the Christ): “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am.’” (Mark 14:61-62)
There are many other names and titles God uses of himself in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus also uses of himself. One is “Lord.” For instance, compare Isaiah 40:3ff with Matthew 3:30, and Isaiah 6:1-13 with John 12:38-41.
The Evidence for Jesus’ Deity is Overwhelming
With the amount of evidence that shows Jesus claiming to be nothing less than God, it is ridiculous to deny this was his claim. C. S. Lewis summarizes:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” . . . . let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 56)
Of course, he could have made this claim, but it is false. Jesus knew this, and so he gave everyone a way to verify he was whom he claimed to be. He said he would be killed and come back to life in three days (Matthew 12:38-40). If he did, they (and we) can be sure he is God, as he says he is. If not, we can be sure he was not. In another blog series, I outlined the vast amount of evidence proving Jesus did come back to life after his crucifixion, showing he is God.
Jesus is also a Person
The definition of a person is something with three attributes: intellect, emotion, and will. It is the class of things that think, feel, and choose. Rocks don’t have these attributes, and so we don’t classify rocks as persons. Nor do trees. Nor do magnetic fields. Only persons have these three attributes.
It is clear that Jesus had these attributes—so clear that it seems unnecessary to discuss this point further. So we add to the fact that Jesus is God that Jesus is a person.
Conclusion: Therefore God is a Person
The law of logic known as the “Law of Transitivity” is that if A is equal to B and B is equal to C, then A is equal to C. In this case, God (A) is equal to Jesus (B). Moreover, Jesus (B) is equal to a person (C). Therefore God (A) is equal to a person (C).
This was the fourth reason I shared with Bob showing God is a person and not an impersonal force. Yet I shared one more reason to believe God is a person—perhaps the most important one. I will discuss that final reason next week.
Until then, grace and peace.
For a development of this argument see Dr. Peter Kreeft’s “The Divinity of Christ” on his website.