Sunday, July 11, 2010

Four Objections Against the Deity of Christ

(This is part of a much longer article that I wrote on the deity of Christ. For reference purposes, I have edited this section and am posting it on my blog.)

I know that even having given a solid scriptural and historical case for the deity of Christ in my past articles on Christology, there will still remain many objections laid out against orthodox Christian belief. Thus, I would like to address just four common objections that are often raised by Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other detractors of biblical Christianity. There will undoubtedly be more such objections that will be raised, but I will resist the urge to be exhaustive at this point.

Objection One: "Jesus never explicitly states that He is God."

It would be foolhardy to limit Jesus in this way by forcing Him to say in concise terms what He claims about Himself, especially in light of all the scriptural evidence (Isaiah 9:6-7, 10:21, Mark 14:62-65, John 1:1-18, 5:2-18, 8:58, 20:28, etc.). There are many things He did not explicitly say (such as being the Messiah), yet there is no doubt that He thought of Himself in these terms. Also, the fact that He accepts others who call Him God and worship Him (rather than rebuking them, which would be what He should have done if He is just a prophet or an angel) show that He definitely thought of Himself this way.

Objection Two: "How can a person be man and God at the same time?"

Muslims are particularly fond of raising this question. They claim that if Jesus sleeps, goes to the bathroom, gets hungry, etc., then He cannot be God. This misses a key aspect of Christian doctrine, and that is the hypostatic union: God the eternal Word became flesh. He is not a mere phantom as the early Docetists wrongly believed. He had a true human body, and He would speak and act in that body as a true human being would. But in doing so, He does not sacrifice His Divinity in the least bit. He has all the essential attributes of humanity, but at the same time He has all the essential attributes of divinity.

If God is infinite and omnipotent, it should be no problem at all for Him to enter into His own creation in the form of a human being. Also, in the incarnation, Jesus retains His full Divinity by retaining His omniscience (John 16:3), omnipresence (Matthew 28:20) omnipotence (Matthew 28:18), eternality (John 1:1) and immutability (Hebrews 13:8), among other attributes. It is true that He temporarily sheds His being unbound by time and space, but this is not an essential attribute of deity anyway. God can temporarily set this aside and still be God.

Objection Three: "When Jesus died on the cross, did God die? And if He did, who was running the world while He was dead?"

This one is another Islamic favourite. Unfortunately for those who raise it, this argument forgets two key things:

First of all, as I said before, Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. When He died on the cross, this means that His Divine spirit was temporarily separated from His human body until the Resurrection. This does not mean He ceased to exist, however. This exposes an inconsistency on the part of those who raise this argument, since not even they would believe that death means nonexistence.

Second, this question assumes a form of Modalism, which makes Jesus the entirety of the Godhead. Remember that it was not the Father or the Holy Spirit that became incarnate, only the son. The Father had always been up in Heaven, keeping things in order. In any case, I shouldn't even have to bring this one up in light of the first problem that I pointed out.

Objection four: "There are verses in the bible that contradict the deity of Christ."

Of course, it is to be expected that those who reject the deity of Christ will put forward a number of bible passages in their attempt to undermine this biblical truth. The Jehovah's Witnesses are especially adept at this, and have fooled many an unprepared Christian with their clever arguments. However, their mishandling of scripture becomes all too apparent once one has taken the time to actually examine the texts being quoted in greater detail:

God is not man, that he should lie,or a son of man, that he should change his mind.Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
(Numbers 23:19, ESV)

Of course, the verse in context refers to the fact that Yahweh is immutable in His decrees, and is not fickle as mortal men are. Also, those quoting this passage miss the rather obvious fact that this verse was written long before the incarnation took place. In other words, Jesus did not have a human nature yet at this point in time!

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
(Mark 10:17-18, ESV)

Jesus is not, at this point, denying the man's description of Him as good. What He is doing, rather, is that He is trying to get the man to realize what he is just saying. In effect, He is telling the man, "Do you understand what you are calling Me? Or are you just calling me good to get closer to Me?" Jesus, of course affirms His goodness elsewhere. For example, when He is accused by the Jews, He asks them rhetorically in John 8:46, "Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?" The fact that those who deny the deity of Christ appeal to this passage is somewhat humorous, given that many of them would contend that Jesus is indeed good!

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
(John 5:19)

First of all, I would like to remind the reader that this passage comes right at the heels of John 5:20-24, which is a clear reference to Jesus having divine prerogatives:

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
(John 5:20-24)

Notice two things here: First of all, Jesus claims to be able to give life and pronounce judgment upon people (prerogatives that only God has). Second, Jesus says that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. We are not talking about a lesser kind of honour here. Instead, the kind of honour that Jesus expects to receive is exactly the kind of honour one would give to God the Father. This is another clear statement of their coequality. The fact that those who cite John 5:19 ignore the context of the entire passage (because doing so demolishes their whole argument) should already raise up red flags for more attentive readers.

Now, what about the verse itself? It should be pointed out at the outset that Jesus is not denying the fact that He is all-powerful. That is reading too much into the verse. What Jesus is denying here, however, is that He has any kind of separate agenda apart from the Father. To paraphrase Dr. White, He is not some rogue deity out doing His own thing. There is complete unity of purpose in the Godhead, so that the Godhead is of one will in accomplishing God's sovereign decrees.

You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
(John 14:28)

One must look at the verse in context. Jesus is pointing out how He will soon be ascending back to Heaven, and is rebuking His disciples for not rejoicing at this fact. The Father is positionally greater because He is up in Heaven, but this does not mean that He is ontologically greater, since the Father and the Son are one in essence and being. To give an analogy: In the army, a General is positionally greater than a Private, since a General is of higher rank than a Private. This does not mean, however, that the General is a greater person than the Private, as all men are equally created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26).

What this demonstrates is an important rule in interpreting texts pertaining to the person of Jesus Christ: Difference in function does not indicate inferiority of nature. This is a common mistake made by those who assume Unitarianism. As Alan Kurschner (a contributor to Alpha and Omega Ministries) explains,

There is a built-in assumption for many that if Jesus has a lesser role than the Father, he must therefore have a lesser nature. This is an illogical inference. Those who oppose the deity of Christ point to Jesus' submissive remarks about doing the will of his Father. For example, Jesus says, "the Father is greater than I am." They infer from this that Jesus does not share the same nature with the Father (this ignores that the context is talking about their relational roles, not their nature, John 14). Jesus also calls the Father, "My God." Yet those who oppose the deity of Christ ignore that this is a humble acknowledgment of the Incarnate Jesus, modeling for us humility and submissiveness (John 20:17). This exalting affirmation is exactly what we would expect from the Son of God.

Similarly, since Jesus is the agent of the Father in many respects such as the Creation, therefore Jesus cannot be fully God. And regarding the Spirit, they will make the similar false assumption: Since the Spirit is sent by the Father, the Spirit cannot have the same divine nature as the Father. Again, they will look at these statements and make the fallacious leap that difference in function indicates inferiority of nature.

By doing so, they also deny the freedom of the Divine persons to choose their roles. Or to put it another way: they assume that to be truly God, the Son and the Spirit must have the exact same roles as the Father. Do not allow them to accept this assumption. Probe them to ensure they see this point.
(Kurschner, Alan. Two Quick Apologetic Tips on the Trinity.)

I will deal with just one more proof text:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
(John 17:3)

Well of course Jesus would say there is only one true God! We're monotheists! Unfortunately, those who quote this passage once again miss the entire point of the high priestly prayer (In the first place, what does it even mean for eternal life to know two persons? Can you imagine anybody saying that eternal life is to know Abraham, or Moses, or David?). It helps to read the next two verses that come afterward:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
(John 17:4-5)

Did you hear that? Before God could share His glory with anybody else (cf. John 17:22), Jesus already shared glory with the Father and was by His side (once again echoing John 1:1). Now how could this be, when the Old Testament states that God gives His glory to no other (cf. Isaiah 42:8, 48:11)? The only way this passage can be interpreted consistently is if we conclude that the Father and the Son are one in Being.

In any case, there are many similar proof texts being offered up by Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and others who deny the deity of Christ. Needless to say, the same rules apply to those texts as the ones that apply to the ones I just cited. Always make sure to pay close attention to the context of the passages being cited, as you will often find that the context demolishes their entire argument.

Further Reading

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