Critical Evidence for the Deity of Christ
New Testament scholar Ben
Witherington lists thirteen established features of the historical Jesus
which even most critical biblical scholars accept.  Unfortunately
the critics who do not believe that Jesus understood Himself to be God,
from these thirteen facts alone it can be clearly demonstrated that Jesus
did indeed believe that He was God. From there it can then be
established, based on the authority of Jesus, that the Bible is not only
trustworthy, but also
divinely inspired. I am simply going to show, on the basis of nine of
these facts, that Jesus believed and claimed that He was God, even
according to some of the most skeptical standards of investigation.
1. His independent approach to the law.
This means that Jesus equated his own authority with the authority
of what He considered (along with the rest of His culture) to be the
divinely inspired Torah (the Christian Old Testament). In some instances
He even placed His authority above the Old Testament law. But who
would dare to place their own words on equal level with God's unless He
believed that He was God? Horst George Pohlmann says "This unheard of
claim to authority, as it comes to expression in the antitheses of the
Sermon on the
Mount, for example, is implicit Christology, since it presupposes a unity
of Jesus with God that is deeper than that of all men, namely a unity of
essence. This...claim to authority is explicable only from the side of
his deity. This authority only God
Himself can claim."  Because of this, prominent Jewish scholar Jacob
Newusner, himself not a Christian, has concluded that "no one can
encounter Matthew's Jesus without concurring that before us in the
evangelist's mind is God incarnate." 
William Lane Craig affirms this: "If Jesus' opposition of His
personal teaching to the Torah is an authentic facet of the historical
Jesus--as even the skeptical scholars of the Jesus seminar concede--then
it seems that Jesus did arrogate to Himself the authority of God." 
2. His feeding of the 5,000.
This fact is not as widely accepted as the others, even though it is
accepted by many. In general, this is because of an anti-supernatural
bias, not historical evidence. This miracle meets the criteria of
multiple attestation, set by critical scholars, because it is recorded by
both John and the Synoptic Gospels
(Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and John was writing independently of the
Synoptics. At the very least, this shows that Jesus had the ability to
3. His interpretation of His miracles.
The consensus of NT scholarship agrees that Jesus performed
miracles. One reason for this is that the miracle stories so permeate
all aspects of the gospel traditions that this can only be explained if
they are rooted in the life of Jesus. Jesus interrpreted His miracles
to be signs that the kingdom of God had arrived. In the historical
context of Jesus' culture, however, the coming of the kingdom of God
could not be separated from the coming of God Himself. Therefore, in
claiming that in Himself
the kingdom of God had already arrived, Jesus was putting Himself in
God's place. In other words, He thought He was God.
Matthew 11:4-5 is a saying of Jesus that is widely accepted as
authentic by most critical scholars. In this verse, Jesus makes clear
reference to His ability to give sight to the blind, make the lame walk,
cleanse the lepers, etc. For OT Judaism, however, God is the one who
heals Israel's diseases. Jesus, by healing in His own power and not
using any medical means, is therefore taking God's place as the healer of
Israel, thus putting Himself, once again, in the place of God in the OT.
In doing so, He was making a clear claim to be the God of Israel.
4. His proclamation of the kingdom of God as present and inbreaking in
We have already seen that this proclamation comes through in His
interpretation of His miracles. But Jesus' miracles are not the only
evidence that Jesus gives to confirm His proclamation. William Lane
Craig says "It may be an embarrassment of many
modern theologians, but it is historically certain that Jesus believed
He had the power to cast out demons."  In Luke 11:20, a saying widely
acknowledged to be authentic, Jesus declares "But if it is by the finger
of God that I cast out demons, then the
kingdom of God has come upon you." Jesus is essentially saying that His
ability to rule over the spiritual forces of darkness demonstrates that
in Him the kingdom of God is already present. We have already seen the
implications of this.
5. His choosing of 12 disciples.
This reflects God's choosing of twelve patriarchs in the OT from
which the twelve tribes of Israel would come.
6. His use of "the Son of Man."
Many critical scholars are
willing to accept that Jesus used this
title because He uses it over 80 times in the Gospels, yet it only occurs
once outside the Gospels. Therefore, this title cannot be the invention
of the early Church written back into
His mouth since the early church did not use this title for Jesus. So,
Jesus must have used it. What many skeptics overlook is that Jesus
referred to Himself as the Son of Man, not a Son of Man (as
did). By doing so, Jesus was calling attention back to the divine
end-time figure in Daniel 7, and clearly claiming to
be the Messiah.
7. His use of "amen."
Jesus often prefaced His teaching in
the strongest way possible,
"Truly, truly I say to you" (in other words, "Amen, amen..."). Virtually
all critical scholars recognize this because of its prevalence in the
Gospel narratives. All of the previous prophets of God spoke in God's
name, declaring, "Thus says the Lord."
In contrast, Jesus spoke in His own name, declaring "Truly I say to
you." Yet, by prefacing His words with the "Amen," He placed His
teaching on equal authority with the teaching of the Old Testament. In
others words, Jesus spoke in His own name, yet
declared that His teaching was just as authoritative as the divinely
inspired Old Testament. Who would do this but one who thought they were
8. His use of "Abba."
Jesus' prayer life demonstrates that He thought of Himself as the
unique Son of God, set Him apart from everyone else, even His
disciples. It is an established fact that Jesus addressed God as "Abba,"
which is almost like calling God "daddy." To the Jews of that day, the
name of God was so sacred that no one would dare pray to God in such a
familiar way. While Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God as "Abba,"
He still never prayed with them as "Our Father," but referred to God as
"My Father" (
see John 20:17). Thus, Jesus saw Himself as God's son in a unique
sense, shared by no one else.
9. His distinguishing Himself from his contemporaries, including John
the Baptist, the Pharisees, Jewish revolutionaries, and the
10. His belief that one's future standing with God hinged on how one
reacted to His ministry.
Jesus says that people will be judged based on their response to
Him. See, for example, Luke 12:8-9. But if Jesus is not God, this would
be "the most narrow and objectionable dogmatism. For Jesus is saying
that people's salvation depends on their confession to Jesus Himself." 
11. His understanding that his death was necessary to rectify matters
between God and His people.
12. His sense of mission to the whole of Israel, especially to sinners
and outcasts, which led to table fellowship with such people.
13. His raising messianic expectations in a repeated pattern of
controversy with his contemporaries.
Since it can still be established by some of the most skeptical
standards of historical investigation that Jesus implicitly claimed to be
God, both by His words and actions, it cannot reasonably be said that the
idea of Jesus' divinity was a legend
generated over time by the early church. The critics refuse to draw the
obvious implications from these facts not because of lack of evidence,
but because of their anti-supernatural bias. Therefore, to further
fortify our case, let us look at one more line of evidence.
The beliefs of the early church cannot be explained unless Jesus claimed
to be God.
There is little doubt that the early Christians believed that Jesus
is God. As William Lane Craig writes, "Studies by NT scholars such as
Martin Hengel of Tubingen University, C.F.D. Moule of Cambridge, and
others have proved that within twenty years of the crucifixion a
full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed...the
oldest Christian sermon, the oldest account of a Christian martyr, the
oldest pagan report of the Church, and the oldest liturgical prayer (1
Cor. 16:22) all refer to Christ as Lord and God." 
To deny that Jesus claimed to be God raises a very severe problem:
How did the worship of Jesus as Lord and God come about in the first
place? Saying that Jesus' claims to deity were written back into His
mouth by the early church does not address
the issue; the problem is the origin of those beliefs in the first
place. The earliest Christians were Jews, and to first century Jewish
thought the concept of God appearing in human flesh on the earth was
totally foreign. Furthermore, it would have raised serious difficulties
for a Jew to believe that God would become man because of the significant
change in their religion; they did not change their views easily. How
can one explain zealously monotheistic Jews worshiping Jesus as God if He
did not claim this about Himself? If Jesus never claimed to be God, the
early Christian's belief cannot be explained.
We have clearly established, through the thirteen established facts
and the problem of the origin of belief in Jesus as God, that the
doctrine of Jesus' divinity originated with Himself. There are,
therefore, only a few options. Either Jesus was right in His claims to
be God, or He was wrong. If He was wrong, He either knew He was wrong or
did not know He was wrong. If He knew He was wrong, He was a liar. If He
did not know He was wrong, then He was radically deluded. The only other
option is thatt He was right, and therefore He is God. What is your
1. Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1990), p. 268.
2. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and
Apologetics (Wheaton, Illionis: Moody Press, 1984), p. 253.
3. Jacob Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (New York: Doubleday,
1993), p. 17.
4. Craig, p. 247.
5. Craig, p. 248.
6. Craig, p. 251.
7. Craig, p. 243.
This has been adapted from: William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith:
Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, Illinois: Moody Press, 1984),
Go back to Contend for the Faith.
This page hosted by
Get your own Free Home Page