Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why Must Jesus Be God?

Two years ago as I was relating to my sister some exchanges between myself and a Jehovah's Witness friend of mine, she asked this simple question. As I stammered through a feeble and less than lucid argument, I came to realize that I didn't have a good answer. I could explain away the hows relating to the deity of Christ but not the whys. It forced me to consider, "am I really that prepared to witness to the average cult following neighbor/work associate/friend or the intelligent agnostic friend explaining why I believe what I do--why Jesus must be God?" So I began searching for an answer.

Scores of volumes have spoken to the mystery of God-man over time. From the blood thirsty cries of Jesus' Jewish contemporaries who accused him of blasphemy to Arius and his modern day followers (known as Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons) who claim that he was some lesser shade of deity and many others, the debate over Jesus' true identity continues today. Certainly, this blog entry will fall short in such a great debate for many reasons. My attempt is not to be comprehensive but rather straight to the point, to provide one clear and practical answer that might prove useful to the reader who wants and answer.

Before I go any further, let me frame this why question other similar how questions in order to (1) bring clarity to the original question and (2) provide a stimulus for conversation with those who deny the full deity of Christ:

How does God save man through any other means than Himself (if Jehovah and Jesus are not One in nature)?
If Jesus is not Jehovah God (as any cult would assert) how is his sacrifice sufficient to save men?
How can God free man from His own wrath (His desire to punish) without using His own blood and still remain just?

The best resource I found for reasoning through this topic is an old one--Anselm's Cur Deus Homo, which means "Why God-Man?" Anselm writes:

Do you not perceive that, if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly be adjudged as the servant of that being? Now if this be so, he would in no wise be restored to that dignity which would have been his had he never sinned. For he, who was to be through eternity only the servant of God and an equal with the holy angels, would now be the servant of a being who was not God, and whom the angels did not serve.”
(Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, 185)

In stating his point, Anselm presents (for the sake of staging his argument) the idea that man’s savior is “a being who was not God,” is less than God, and as such, is one “whom the angels did not serve.” If this is true and it is also true that Jesus Christ, as one less than God in this scenario, is this “being” who “rescue(s) man from eternal death” (as scripture specifically asserts in 2 Tim 1:10 and elsewhere), then salvation through Christ must then necessarily make man a “servant” and debtor to one other than God Himself. After all, how could a man be saved from “eternal death” and not owe everything to the one who has saved him? For one to contend the opposite--that it is possible to not owe life for a “rescue from eternal death”--would bring into question the motivation for the Biblical demand for sanctification (Rom 6:22).

If this scenario of a "savior" who is less than God were true, it would also contradict God’s intended purpose for man in creation—to serve Him alone (“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” Rom 11:36 ESV). Thus, God’s intended purpose for man in creation (to serve Him alone) and the effect of salvation through a "savior" other than God (to be indebted to the savior) would be at great odds with one another. God would contradict Himself, since this scenario does not allow for man to “be restored to that dignity which would have been his had he never sinned” if man is indebted to anyone other than his "active" Creator. (I say “active” Creator here since it is the belief of some who would agree with this Jesus-less-than-God scenario that the Father had an "active" role in creation and the Son only a "passive" one).

If this Jesus-less-than-God scenario were to be true, then clearly God would be at odds with Himself!

His purposes would not stand!

He would be guilty of an inconsistent nature, guilty of violating who He has revealed Himself to be, and guilty of appeasing His infinite nature through created (and finite) means. Therefore, if a Jesus-less-than-God is somehow true and a Jesus-less-than-God somehow saves (in any way, shape or form and to any degree), then God cannot be God. How could God ever be at odds with Himself and remain God? He can't. One thing that God can never do is violate His own nature.

Man, too, in this scenario would be divided. He would certainly have a divided or, at the very best, a confused allegiance between Jehovah the "active" Creator and the Jesus-less-than-God "savior." Herein lies the rub for those who believe that Jesus is not fully God--a divided allegiance. Who do they worship? Is it a little worship to the Jesus-less-than-God and more worship to Jehovah God? Exactly how does that work? And what about glory? Can attributes of the divine nature have degrees? If so, where in scripture is it defined to what degree Christ is worthy to receive glory? How and when do they decide to acknowledge the Lamb as the heavenly creatures do in Revelation?

The conundrum for any believer in a Jesus-less-than-God is the division of a divine nature which cannot be divided.

Such a Jesus-less-than-God scenario as this, whereby “any other being should rescue man from eternal death” than God himself, is therefore impossible. God must be both Creator and Savior, else his purpose for man in Creation and the effect of His Salvation for man are divided, inconsistent and impossible. (See Hebrews 10 specifically for God’s undivided and consistent purposes in Salvation).


Hal Brunson said...

Excellently written, depthful, and thought provoking . . .

Shane said...


Your post blessed me this morning. Thanks Beau.

Shane said...

I've noticed recently that even within some so-called evangelical circles the deity of Christ is being questioned, and that anti-trinitarianism generally, and the refutation of Christ as God specifically, is no longer confined to the kingdom of the cults.

One thing I would note from your post is that you hit the nail on the head when you said that part of the reason that Christ must be God is that in order to satisfy the wrath of God, it takes the God-man to be the sacrificial lame---infinite value substituting for infinite failure.

One commonality among all those who reject the deity of Christ is that they all agree that Christ's sacrifice was not enough to pay for their sin, anyway. They all teach some merit on the part of the sinner is necessary in addition to Christ's death.

Such a view is actually necessary if you reject the deity of Christ. However, such a view is untenable if Christ is God.

Thanks again for the post. I'm looking forward to reading more.

The Militant Pacifist said...

Really good stuff! AND, He has called us “friends.”

It’s interesting that, because He is God, when we are accused of being "man worshippers" we must plead guilty to the charge (of course with appropriate explanation).

Though I’m not always successful, I try to somehow work in the statement "Jesus Christ is God" when I have a speaking opportunity.

Beau Morgan said...

Thanks guys for the feedback.

Shane, your comment is very well stated. I can't help but believe that a reason "the refutation of Christ as God specifically is no longer confined to the kingdom of the cults" is because the efficacy of Jesus Christ's sacrifice is no longer preached or believed.

To state that Christ's atonement only makes salvation possible but not accomplished (as most professing Christians today would agree) is to deny the sufficiency of Christ's atonement at all. In other words, if Christ does not save all he died to save then His death does not accomplish all it was intended to accomplish. And to separate the will or intent of God from the hand or action of God is to take from God His very essence and to make Him less that what only He, and no other, can fully be.

So, in a very real sense those who would deny that Jesus' sacrifice saves ALL for whom it was intended, deny that Jesus (although perhaps unintentionally and indirectly) is fully God.

Dare I then ask...what is the real difference between the "kingdom of the cults" and the contemporary "kingdom of God" with respect to the deity of Christ as verified by the atonement?

Unknown said...

I know this is an old post, but really wanted to pose a question.

In the OT, when the goats and such were sacrificed to effect forgiveness - did the Israelites, worship the animals that were sacrificed? Did they have to be divine (as in God)?

If God was going to 'buy' you out of prison and he sent the money to the warden, via a messenger in a red volvo, would you need to believe that the messenger or the volvo were God? Rom 4:2 seems relevant. If Jesus justification, salvation, sanctification came by works, then he would have something to glory in, but not before God. Jesus did not do the saving or justifying. Jesus did something similar to what his mother did, "be in unto me according to the Word of Yahweh".

The difference with Jesus is in the heritage. Jesus had sinless blood, only one other human had that, Adam, and we know what he did. Jesus undid that, by becoming a (or rather THE) sacrifice for sin.

IF Jesus were fully God, then there was no chance for him to fail, no need to subjugate his will for God's, no need to become obedient, etc ... And the old kenosis (or whatever it's called) stuff is a prop that does not hold up. God could never divest himself of being God. The OT should have taught us that, but we failed to learn those lessons about God's nature.

Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one.

Jesus quoted that, knowing full well he was not God.

Also, Christ is the head of the body. Would it be proper for that to be God? and then for God to be the head of God?

It is confusion and foolishness to go outside of God's commandments, of which the First and Great is that God is one.

You don't pray to Christ in the name of God !!! Foolishness

God is his own high priest?? Foolishness.

If you really have a co-equal each full trilogy in God, then substituting any of the three for the others or the one, would work; but it never does.

What gets confused is that the messenger, the agent, the Messiah, God's vice-regent; king; prophet, and high priest has been given the authority, rule and power, because God has 'highly exalted him' due to his complete obedience.

Therefore, and praise or thankfulness for what Jesus accomplished is directed to God in the name of Jesus.

I say again, if it were God that did the work of Christ ... then what is that, so what, meaningless and devoid of any power. That would be outside of God's character for God has declared, (ex 34:6,7)

6 Yahweh passed by before him, and proclaimed, “Yahweh! Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth, 7 keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation.”

If Christ were God, then God became a curse - Foolishness

.... well, of course there is more, but I'll stop here.

I encourage myself to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and I search the scriptures daily to examine myself if I'm in the faith. I encourage any who read this to do the same; open up your heart in prayer to the Father, ask Him to show you Himself. Then believe what he shows you, but you need to be prepared to change. I've done this many times and have had to change as God reveals truth to me.

God Bless you in Christ.

Unknown said...

In response to shane, who quoted "Christ must be God is that in order to satisfy the wrath of God, it takes the God-man to be the sacrificial lame---infinite value substituting for infinite failure."

The failure was Adams sin, (the 'infinite' there is certainly some man's addition to God's word - see 2 Peter 1:20 for that)
Romans 5:19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (ESV)

If the sacrifice had to be God, because it had to be infinite, then the failure(sin) was commensurate and had to be infinite, so Romans must be saying that Adam was God.

Shane also quoted "One commonality among all those who reject the deity of Christ is that they all agree that Christ's sacrifice was not enough to pay for their sin, anyway. They all teach some merit on the part of the sinner is necessary in addition to Christ's death."

Of course the sacrifice was enough. It was what God required. It wasn't something the Christ thought up ... Christ did not wake up and think ...' hey, I'll let the Jews kill me and that will atone for what Adam did.'

Now, the sinner does not need to do anyhting for the salvation God wrought in Christ. Consider the following from Eph chapter 1:17-23

17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
what is the exceeding greatness of his power
20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead,
22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head

This really shows you the package deal. It was 'the God OF Jesus Christ' who is the Father of Glory ...who raised Jesus from the dead.
When that happened, Jesus was glorified and God put all things under his feet (context is to the church). Jesus is given the power and authority in heaven and earth, not because he is God, or is the creator, or is Yahweh, but because he is glorified of God, he is the Messiah. Very similar to Joseph when he was ruler in Egypt. Read Gen 41:38-44

However, answer this - regarding the part about some 'merit on the part of the sinner'.

We can say:
1) The debt for sin is paid in full.
2) Every person who has ever lived is covered by the sacrifice of Christ.

But can we say:
3) Every person who ever lived is righteous, and just before God
4) Every person who ever lived (they had their debt paid) will enjoy eternal life in God's kingdom.

What is the difference? I wouldn't use the word merit, but there is certainly something a person must do to inherit eternal life

What does Jesus say about this? Luke 18:18-20

What did Jesus say in Luke 10:25-28

God Bless,

Israel Young said...

Dear Beau and "Unknown",

I thank you both for your excellent posts. I find myself wishing that I had the the skill to post as clearly the thoughts that each of you have shared.

"Unknown", I love the seriousness with which you approach the Scriptures and your attitude to search them out even as the Bereans were commended for doing. I do not want to advocate for a "god" other than the true God and I also desire to not settle for half-truth. Like you, I seek to be like the Bereans. I say this as a brief summary of the time, prayers, and study involved in my own journey.

While the discussion of the nature of Jesus has a seemingly limitless number of directions that it can go, I find myself consistently being drawn to the response of Jesus as people worship Him. In Revelation 5:8-14 we see angels, the 4 living creatures, the 24 elders worshiping the Lamb (Jesus) and then at the end of that passage the 24 elders (and perhaps others) falling down in worship again. Other examples of Jesus receiving and accepting worship are the disciples (Matt 14:33; 28:9; Luke 24:52) and the blind man in John 9:38. In Hebrews 1:6 we see God declaring "Let all the angles of God worship him." (NASB) Being only "highly exalted" and being worshiped alongside Yhvh, and in the same way as Yhvh, are two utterly different things. Jesus received and accepted the latter.

In general, any single argument about the divinity of Jesus is able to be argued to some degree or another in a way that can raise reasonable questions. "Unknown", you have legitimately raised such questions. However, it is in the strength of the multiple proofs together that mandates the realization of Jesus' very nature as God.

When considered critically your arguments do no better job of proving that Jesus is not God than they do in arguing that he actually is God. At one point you say:
"If you really have a co-equal each full trilogy in God, then substituting any of the three for the others or the one, would work; but it never does."
This statement of yours is immediately called into question by Philippians 2:6 where it says "He existed in the form of God". Prior to this you claim that "God could never divest Himself of being God" and yet in Philippians 2:7 it addresses what I believe you are talking about by saying that "He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant,".

Again, your arguments are powerful and well thought through. However it seems to me that your declarations of foolishness rely upon your own judgements than upon statements of Scripture. Could an individual redeem another via his servant or tool as you argue? Perhaps. However, this does not prove that the agent of redemption himself is not the origin of that redemption. (Isaiah 43:11 - "I, even I, am the Lord, and there is no savior besides Me.")

I will once again quote you by saying "… well, of course there is more, but I'll stop here."

Blessings in the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed,


Unknown said...

Israel Young: If, "In general, any single argument about the divinity of Jesus is able to be argued to some degree or another in a way that can raise reasonable questions.", then I suppose one could say that the collection of points, either way, has a counter-balance. I certainly believe that there are a few verses that are difficult to understand if separated out, yet, based on the whole of scripture it is easy to see that Jesus is not God. For example, the first reference you posted, Rev 5:8-14, while the text indicates the elders fell down, there is no indication of worship as if the lamb were Yahweh. There are many instances of people falling down in the scripture to people who are certainly not Yahweh.

As for worship, your references to Matt 14:33; 28:9; Luke 24:52, are some notable examples, but look at acts 10:25, does this mean that paul was Yahweh? certainly not. As for Heb 1:6, it is still the same word as paul being worship, so it is suspect.

When you discuss the co-equal item, you are coming from a premise that Jesus IS God and then reasoning the scripture that way. Phil says that Jesus emptied himself. When you apply a trinitarian bias, you must conclude that he emptied himself of divinity, in essence he became unGod (forgive me if I sound silly, I see no other way to capture the idea). Yet, if you approach the scripture with no bias, the context indicates how he emptied himself. The context describes the temptation to exalt himself to a status equal with God. As I said, it is what Adam did, but Jesus did not. He IS the king and rightful heir of David's throne, yet he humbled himself as a servant. Nothing in my preceding sentence requires extra-biblical processing. This is a biblical fact. But to say he emptied himself of the essence of God ... that requires extra-biblical wrangling.

Anyway, I appreciate your hunger and desire to search for truth. As I pray for myself, I also pray for you: that our understanding would be enlightened to know the hope of God's calling and the greatness of Hs power to those who believe and the experience more fully, the Grace and Mercy and Justice of God.

Costas said...

"Unknown" I just thought I'd note that in Acts 25 they do try to worship him, but in verse 26, Peter refuses the worship. So does the angel in revelation refuse the worship. However in Hebrews we are told to worship Christ. Also Jesus accepted worship in all the instances mentioned. He does not rebuke them for worshipping Him.
Also when Thomas says to Him "My Lord and my God" Jesus does not rebuke him, but says that he has believed because he saw.
Also in Acts 20:28 it says God purchased the church with his "own blood". I realize that the NWT has changed this, but if you read the Greek (I am Greek and can read it), it does say "His own blood".


Hal Brunson said...

Thanks for your reading and your commentary!

wendyF said...

Psalm 77:13. Thy way O God is in the sanctuary.
If you study the Hebrew sanctuary service you will clearly see that the primary subject of the sanctuary service is Christ. In fact it is a foreshadow of Christ's earthly and heavenly ministry.
Unknown... one more point to add about the elders and angels in heaven worshipping Christ. Heaven is perfect and sin has not tainted any individuals there. Are you suggesting that unfallen, heavenly beings in the presence of God are capable of breaking the first commandment - Thou shalt not have any other gods before me?