Opening Statement: “Did Jesus Claim to Be God?” Debate

It is a privilege to be with you here tonight. Abu and I have been planning and preparing for this debate for months and I am grateful for the chance to stand before you regarding this very special topic. Let me thank the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church for allowing us to meet in this beautiful hall and the IPCI for their part in the debate as well.

My opponent tonight is a friend. We have eaten together on a number of occasions and each time our conversation turns to the differences between our religious convictions. Abu is a man of intelligence and there is no debate about that tonight. It is my goal during this event to exhibit an attitude of mutual respect but not an attitude of compromise.

The Nature of the Debate

What is under debate tonight is the radically different ways by which we view Jesus. We are not debating the rights of women, posture in prayers, food laws, or even Jesus’ claims about himself within the Qur’an. For sake of time and clarity, Abu and I have narrowed this debate to what Jesus claimed about himself within the pages of the New Testament Gospels.

Some of you may have been to Abu’s lectures a couple years ago on the topic “Jesus Christ in Islam”. In those lectures, Abu was not afraid to interact with the Bible. He held the Scriptures in his hands and quotes often from its pages. On that night, he was not merely arguing that Jesus denied deity in the Qur’an. That much is obvious. Rather, he argued that within the Christian Scriptures themselves Jesus never claimed to be God. This is the challenge for the Christian tonight.

Now to ask for examples in the Bible of Jesus claiming to be God is like asking a sailor if he is able to locate fish in the sea. He would hardly know where to begin. In the same way, it is not difficult for the Christian to find Jesus’ claims to Deity in the Bible, or even in the NT, or even in the Gospels, or even in a single book. Christians have enough evidence to the Deity of Christ were we could find a host of examples in just a single chapter of John alone.

Why Debate from the Bible?

Many of you here may be wondering: “Why are we debating from the Bible?” The Qur’an is the holy book of Muslims and the Bible is the holy book of Christians and never the two shall meet. But we must understand that the Qur’an itself tells Muhammad to refer to the Gospels for guidance. Surah 5:46-47, “We sent him [Jesus] the Gospel, therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein.”

Apparently Muhammad thought that the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels would support what he was saying in the Qur’an.

Some Muslims will simply say the Bible has been corrupted and move on. Other Muslims, however, like Abu, choose instead to take these words of the Qur’an seriously and to in fact go to the Gospels for guidance.

A Brief Definition of the Trinity

Before I give some proofs for the Deity of Christ within the Gospels, allow me to define briefly the nature of Jesus within the Trinity. This is important because many people misunderstand it. Perhaps that misunderstanding stems from Sura 5:116. “O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men: worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?” (Sura 5:116).

Let me define the Trinity in 14 words, a definition that even my small children have memorized. God is three persons. Each person is fully God. There is only one God. [Perhaps this illustration will help]. The three persons are of one divine essence, but yet separate persons. For example, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father.

Long before Muhammad received his revelation from the angel Gabriel in the 7th century, Scripture has promoted monotheism. Deut. 6:4 is a Bible verse: Shema Yisrael, Yahweh Eloheynu Yahweh Ehad. “Here O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” We hear the same words from the mouth of Jesus in Mark 10:29 and the mouth of Paul in 1 Tm. 2:5. Christians are monotheists.

Christians believe that Jesus has always existed in his divine nature, though at a moment in time came into the world, took on human nature in addition to his divine nature, and yet lived a holy life without sin. Therefore, it is not surprising to us that he was thirsty, or tired, or ultimately died on the cross, for all of these things are synonymous with human nature.

This definition will also protect us from objections from passages like John 17, when Jesus prays to the Father. The objection: if there is only one God, how could Jesus pray to the Father? This passage only bolsters our confidence in the definition of the Trinity. Jesus prayed to the Father because they are separate persons, but of the same divine essence.

The Stakes are High

Make no mistake. This is not a minor difference with Muslims. Abu is fond of saying that he too is a follower of Jesus. And yet neither Muslims nor anyone else worships the true God if they reject Jesus as he really is in the Gospels. “[Jesus said]: The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).

There is no middle ground with Jesus; you are either with him all the way or against him. John 12:30 – “Whoever is not with me is against me.” You can’t say, “Well, I believe in Jesus, just not that he is God.” You take the whole package or you take nothing.

Why Didn’t Jesus Say: “I am God Worship Me?”

Let me address one more objection before we dive into Jesus’ claims of Deity. Many Muslims ask: “Why does Jesus never say, “I am God, Worship me?” And it is true, he never said these exact words. But I would argue that Jesus’ claims to Deity are much stronger and clearer than if he had merely said, “I am God.”

If Jesus had simply arrived on the scene and said, “Hi folks, I’m God”, that would have greatly confused the people because they did not yet have a full concept of the Trinity. Was Jesus claiming to be another God or a competing God? Jesus took 33 years on earth to clarify.

With this foundation laid, let me give four ways Jesus claimed to be God in the Gospels.

Jesus Claims Deity in His Titles

Jesus uses a number of titles for himself that point to his Deity.

He is called “Emmanuel”, which means, God with us (Matt. 1:23). He calls himself the Son of God and Son of Man, both of which point to his deity.

The OT uses many names for God. Beginning and the End, Lord, Savior, King, Judge, Light, Rock, Redeemer, Shepherd, Creator, giver of life, forgiver of sin. All of these are used of Jesus in the NT.

In the OT, the most sacred, personal, covenant name of God is Yahweh, or Jehovah. Only the one true God takes this name upon his lips. For a human to do so would be blasphemy. 41:4 says: “I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.” Yahweh identifies himself with the words: ego eimi or “I am.” Isa. 43:10: “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.” Ironically, this verse is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to get their name, and while they deny the Deity of Christ like Muslims, this is actually one of the strongest proofs for the Jesus as God. Why? Because when we come to the NT, the soldiers and religious leaders are looking for Jesus, saying we seek “Jesus of Nazareth”. And Jesus said to them, “I am he.” When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (Jn. 18:4-6).

When we come to John 8:58, Jesus again uses this very title for himself. “Before Abraham was, I am (ego eimi).” If he had merely wanted to show that he had lived before Abraham (which in itself would prove Deity), he could have said: “before Abraham was, I Rather, he identified himself as only Yahweh does. The enemies of Jesus knew that he was claiming to be God, for they “picked up stones to throw at him…” (8:59).

Jesus Claims Deity in His Actions

Jesus forgave sins. In Matthew 9:6, Jesus said “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Now you may say that is no proof at all of Jesus being God, for humans forgive each other all the time. But Jesus went even further, for he forgave the sins done against God. In Matt. 9:2 we find the story of the paralytic who had done no offense toward Jesus, yet Jesus says to him, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” We as humans may forgive those offenses done against ourselves, but Jesus forgave sins done against God, something creatures cannot do.

Jesus heard and answered prayer. Jesus said to his followers, when you pray, address your prayers to me by praying in my name. “If you ask me anything in my name I will do it” (Jn. 14:14). Think of all the languages and prayers that come to him each moment. Only God could make such a claim.

Jesus received adoration and praise. In John 9:38, the blind man believed in Jesus and worshipped The word for worship there means to prostrate oneself. This is what Muslims do before Allah, but when a man did this before Jesus, he accepted it.

Perhaps the greatest example is Jesus accepting Thomas’ proclamation of Deity: “My Lord and My God!” The Tsonga is even clearer: Hosi yanga, Xikwembu xanga. (Jn. 20:28). There is no grammatical escape from the veracity of this claim. Contrast this with other stories of Scripture when Jesus’ followers were worshipped as God’s and they immediately tore their clothes and cried out: “We are men the same as you!” (Acts 14)

Jesus was the object of men’s faith. In John 14:1, Jesus places himself on the same level as the Father as the proper object of men’s trust. “Believe in God; believe also in me.” In whatever manner one is to “believe in” (pisteuo eis; unreservedly trust) God, one is also to believe in (same Greek words) Jesus. If Jesus is not divine, this would be blasphemy.

Jesus Claims Deity in His Attributes

Every attribute of God is found in Jesus Christ.

Sovereignty and Omnipotence: To claim absolute sovereignty and power over the entire universe would be madness from a mere creature. Jesus said he reveals the Father and gives life to whomever he chooses (Matt. 11:27; Jn. 5:21). Jesus said “I have the authority to judge all men” and “I have the authority to lay down my life and take it up again” (Jn. 10:18). In fact he said, “all authority on heaven and earth has been give to me” (Mt. 28:18).

Omnipresence: “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Could a mere creature say this?

Omniscience: Jesus knew the thoughts of men, saying to the scribes, “Why do you think evil in your hearts” (Matt. 9:4)? His disciples said of him “We can see that you know all things.” (Jn. 16:30). Then Jesus made this amazing claim in Matt. 11:27: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.”

Jesus Claims Deity in the Book of John

The NT has 260 chapters and earlier I said that there is enough evidence in just one chapter of the book of John to prove the Deity of Christ. The reason why John’s Gospel is so important is because the whole purpose for which it was written was to prove that Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus said: “I and the Father are one” [γ κα πατρ ν σμεν] (Jn. 10:30). These words are found within the Good Shepherd discourse (John 10:22-39) where Jesus claims that His hand and the Father’s hand were equal in power to secure His sheep. This “oneness” is speaking of the unity of essence. At this point, the Jews didn’t argue as so many do today: “He claimed to be the Son of God, so he must be arguing for some lesser form of Deity.” The Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was claiming. They charged him with blasphemy and picked up stones to kill him, saying: “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (10:33).

John’s Prologue. The introductory verses of the book of John may be the clearest, most persuasive verses in all of Scripture on the Deity of Christ. Just as the first verse of the Bible in Genesis begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”, so John begins “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Now we know of course that the Word here is Jesus, because v. 14 says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

Where I would like to focus is in v. 3: “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” This verse gives an irrefutable argument that Jesus is God.

Everything can be divided into two categories: (1) Created (2) Uncreated. Of course “God” is the only thing that fits in the first category, for he is eternal and uncreated. Everything else, all created things, belongs in the second category. V. 3 says that everything in the second category (“all created things”) was created through Jesus. There are only two categories You must be one or the other and you can’t be both.

Now, here is the big question. What category does Jesus belong in? As a Muslim, you will be tempted to place Jesus in the second category, for that is what your theology demands. But the verse does not allow for this. In fact, for emphasis sake, the verse says it two different ways to be clear. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Jesus could not have been created, for he created all things. Therefore, he belongs in category one as the Divine Son of God.

Closing 

Within the NT, we find many passages highlighting both the deity and the humanity of Christ. Jesus is called God on the one hand but is also hungry and thirsty on the other. Muslims like to emphasize the humanity of Christ while denying his Deity. For Christians, it is not either or, but both and.

Most certainly Abu will go to passages like John 14:28, where Jesus said “My Father is greater than I” or Matthew 24:36 where he said “concerning the day and hour no one knows…nor the Son, but the Father only” or Mark 10:10 where he said “why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
Some Christians see these passages as a major problem for the Christian faith. They shouldn’t. There are clear, rational explanations to these texts and Christians ought to know how to articulate them.

In sum, I have defined the Trinity as: “God is three persons. Each person is fully God. There is only one God.” And we have seen that Jesus claims Deity in his titles, actions, attributes, and teachings in the book of John. Thank you.

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