Does the New Testament Teach the Deity of Christ?

A book of this nature will be incomplete without at least a brief note on whether the New Testament really teaches that Jesus is God. We have already implied that it does when looking at evidence for the supremacy of Christ. But I have encountered some sincere Christians who, possibly through the influence of the arguments put forth by cultists and others, think that the deity of Christ is not taught in the Scriptures but was deduced by the church after the New Testament era. There is ample evidence, however, that the New Testament writers also believed in Christ’s deity. This chapter and the one before would have already given some of this evidence. I give below a comprehensive list of New Testament evidences for the deity of Christ. This list is from a brilliant book on the use of the word “God” (Theos in Greek) in reference to Jesus in the New Testament, called Jesus as God, by New Testament scholar Murray Harris. Some of the points in this list have appeared already in my  treatment of the words and works of Jesus.

 

  1. Implicit Christology
  2.  Divine functions performed by Jesus.
  3. In relation to the universe

(1) Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)

(2) Sustainer (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3)

(3) Author of Life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)

(4) Ruler (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 14:9; Rev. 1:5)

  1. In relation to human beings

(1) Healing the sick (Mark 1:32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38)

(2) Teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31)

(3) Forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13)

(4) Granting salvation or imparting eternal life (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10.12-14)

(5) Dispensing the Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:17, 33)

(6) Raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40)

(7) Exercising judgment (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 4:4-5)

  1.  Divine status claimed by or accorded to Jesus
  2. In relation to his Father

(1) Possessor of divine attributes (John 1:4; 10:30; 21:17; Eph. 4:10; Col. 1:19; 2:9)

(2) Eternally Existent (John 1:1; 8:58; 12:41; 17:5; 1 Cor. 10:4; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 11:26; 13:8;
Jude 5)

(3) Equal in dignity (Matt. 28:19; John 5:23; 2 Cor. 13:14; Rev. 22:13; cf. 21:6)

(4) Perfect revealer (John 1:18; 14:9; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:1-3)

(5) Embodiment of truth (John 1:9, 14; 6:32; 14:6; Rev. 3:7, 14)

(6) Joint possessor of the kingdom (Eph. 5:5; Rev. 11:15), churches (Rom. 16:16), Spirit
(Rom. 8:9; Phil 1:19), temple (Rev. 21:22), divine name (Matt. 28:19; cf. Rev. 14:1),

and throne (Rev. 22:1, 3)

  1. In relation to human beings

(1) Recipient of praise (Matt. 21:15-16; Eph. 5:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev. 5:8-14)

(2) Recipient of prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17, 21; 22:16, 19; 1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2

Cor. 12:8)

(3) Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom. 10:8-13)

(4) Object of worship (Matt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil. 2:10-11; Heb. 1:6;

Rev. 5:8-12)

(5) Joint source of blessing (1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; 1 Thess. 3:11; 2 Thess. 2:16)

(6) Object of doxologies (2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Pet. 3:18; Rev. 1:5b-6; 5:13)

  1. Explicit Christology
  2.  Old Testament passages referring to Yahweh applied to Jesus
  3. Character of Yahweh (Exod. 3:14 and Isa. 43:11 alluded to in John 8:58; Ps. 101:27-28
    LXX [MT 102:28-29] quoted in Heb. 1:11-12; Isa. 44:6 alluded to in Rev. 1:17)
  4. Holiness of Yahweh (Isa. 8:12-13 [cf. 29:23] quoted in 1 Pet. 3:14-15)
  5. Descriptions of Yahweh (Ezek. 43:2 and Dan. 10:5-6 alluded to in Rev. 1:13-16)
  6. Worship of Yahweh (Isa. 45:23 alluded to in Phil. 2:10-11; Deut. 32:43 LXX and Ps. 96:7
    LXX [MT 97:7] quoted in Heb. 1:6)
  7. Work of Yahweh in creation (Ps. 101:26 LXX [MT 102:27] quoted in Heb. 1:10)
  8. Salvation of Yahweh (Joel 2:32 [MT 3:5] quoted in Rom. 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; Isa. 40:3
    quoted in Matt. 3:3)
  9. Trustworthiness of Yahweh (Isa. 28:16 quoted in Rom. 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet. 2:6)
  10. Judgment of Yahweh (Isa. 6:10 alluded to in John 12:41; Isa. 8:14 quoted in Rom. 9:33 and
    1 Pet. 2:8)
  11. Triumph of Yahweh (Ps. 68:18 [MT v. 19] quoted in Eph. 4:8)
  12. Divine titles claimed by or applied to Jesus
  13. Son of Man (Matt. 16:28; 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62-64; Acts 7:56)
  14. Son of God (Matt. 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Rom. 1:4; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1:2)
  15. Messiah (Matt. 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)
  16. Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 8:5-6; 12:3; 16:22; Phil. 2:11; 1 Pet.
    2:3; 3:15)
  17. Alpha and Omega (Rev. 22:13; cf. 1:8; 21:6, of the Lord God)
  18. God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1)

The bulk of Harris’ book is a careful study of the texts given last in the above list: those that use the title God for Jesus. He shows that the application of the title God (theos in Greek) is not a late development, as is widely held, but something used as early as a few days after the resurrection (by Thomas in John 20:28 in A.D. 30 or 33). It was also used in Romans 9.5 which was written around A.D. 57. Harris’ study challenges the view held by many that the Christology of the New Testament is entirely functional. By functional Christology is meant the idea that “the person of Christ (i.e., “his unique relation to God”) can be known only in his work.” Oscar Cullmann claimed that you cannot speak of the person of Christ apart from the work of Christ.

Harris concedes, “That New Testament is primarily functional cannot be denied.” But he points out that the presupposition of functional Christology is ontological Christology.” By ontological Christology is meant “a Christology which identifies the ego of Jesus with an aspect of the Being of God.” In other words the New Testament not only presents Jesus as God-in-action and God-in-revelation but also as God-by-nature. Harris says, “Christ performs divine functions because he is divine. His ability to act ‘divinely’ rests on his being divine…. Temporally being precedes doing. Logically, doing presupposes being.”

The above discussion would have shown that belief in Christ’s deity is much more pronounced in the New Testament than is assumed by many people today.

The fact that the deity of Christ was proclaimed so early in the history of the church is significant. John Hick has said that the deifying of Christ by the church was similar to the deifying of the Buddha by his disciples. But as James Orr has pointed out, “It was long centuries after his death, and within limited circles, that Buddha was regarded as Divine.” It was very different with the deity of Christ. Orr says, “One short step takes us from the days when Christ himself lived and taught on earth, into the midst of a Church, founded by his apostles, which in all its branches worshipped and adored him as the veritable Son of God….”

 

From Ajith Fernando, The Supremacy of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1995).

 

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