Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I’ve seen the faith of more than a few ministry students over the years crumble in the face of easily addressed “difficulties.” One such issue involves the deity of Jesus. More than a few times, students have come to me shaken to their core when they realize (usually because some atheist or agnostic biblical scholar mocks the Church over the matter) that “Jesus never claims to be God, and that the New Testament writers never declare Jesus to be God,”
Now you can ask yourself, “Is that true? Did Jesus never claim to be God? Did the New Testament Writers (other than John) never claim the deity of Jesus?”
Short answer: No, it is not true. There are other New Testament writers who make such claims.
Long answer: It depends on what you will accept as declarations of deity. Let’s look at a few examples.
A Trained Eye
If one is waiting for Jesus to jump on a table and shout to passing crowds, “Hey! Look at Me! I’m Incarnate deity!!!” then no, that never happens. If one is demanding that narratives and epistles be systematic theology texts that take the reader step by step through a categorical discussion on the enumerated doctrines of true believers, then, again, no, that never happens.
If, however, one allows the New Testament writers to be artful narrators and the Epistles artful addresses to church issues, then yes, the Scriptures do declare Jesus to be incarnate deity… and they do so quite clearly by Ancient Near Eastern standards. The problem is that modern eyes are often too poorly trained to observe it.
Always keep one carefully focused eye on the Old Testament when reading anything in the New Testament.
Jesus and Jonah
One important way for biblical storytellers to declare the deity of Jesus is to cast Jesus in the role of Yahweh from significant Old Testament passages. For example, in Mark 4:35-41, the author tells the story of the calming of the storm with clear allusions to the story of Jonah. The key to Mark’s telling is that Jesus plays the role of both Jonah, the sleeping prophet, and God, who controls the elements of nature and strikes more fear into the hearts of the sailors through His power to calm the raging sea, than the sea itself causes in all its raging.
Mark actually quotes bits of Jonah 1:6 from the Greek—Where the captain says to the sleeping prophet “Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Mark has the disciples call out to Jesus Himself, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Mark also strongly alludes to the work of Yahweh in the sea storm passage of Psalm 107, when Jesus speaks to Mark’s storm. In verse 29 we find, “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” In Jesus, Mark 4 presents “the deeds of Yahweh, his wondrous works in the deep.” (Psalm 107:24) Jesus is declared incarnate Yahweh, “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9)
You Will Be My Witnesses…
Acts 1 presents us with yet another incident of such character.
Each gospel ends with some version of the Great Commission, including Luke, which says in 24:45-49, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” After this Jesus ascends into heaven.
Acts, though written by the same author, begins with a varied retelling of this scene. In 1:8, we read, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This idea of witness is a recurring theme in Acts. The term itself shows up 16 times in reference to being witness for Christ, once directly declaring the sending of the Holy Spirit as God’s witness of Christ.
Witnesses of Yahweh
Three times in the Book of Isaiah Yahweh says to the Servant and to His community of restored Israel, “You are my witnesses.”
In Isaiah 43:10, after challenging the pagan nations to provide witness for the power of their gods (something they cannot do), Yahweh boasts of the witness that His people can bear of His prophetic word fulfilled in their lives. He declares, “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” Yahweh follows saying, “I, I am the LORD, and besides me, there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed when there was no strange god among you, and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.”
In Isaiah 44:8, Yahweh addresses those who have experienced the power of the living God, He who redeems, who promises and predicts, and who brings it to pass. He says to them, “…you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”
The servant who has come to restore Israel is called “witness” again in Isaiah 55:4-5. “Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.”
Witnesses of Christ
Four times in the Book of Isaiah, Yahweh calls the Servant His witness. Three times, He includes those bound to the servant saying of them, “You are my witnesses.” In Acts 1:8, Jesus is both Servant (Jesus) and Incarnate Yahweh addressing the community of witnesses who are sent to tell of the fulfilled promises of salvation come to men by Yahweh’s hand working in His Servant.
Jesus intentionally uses the language of Isaiah, referring to witnesses of Yahweh, to refer to himself. Any ancient reader would have understood the connection and implication. Jesus was making himself equal to Yahweh. These are only a couple among many examples of similar declarations.
Remember: always keep one carefully focused eye on the Old Testament when reading ANYTHING in the New Testament.