Did Jesus claim to be God?
Nearly a third of the world’s population professes the belief that Jesus is the divine, incarnate Word of God. Catholicism alone accounts for roughly 1.2 billion of these believers. However, others contend that one cannot find a single instance of Jesus claiming to be God in the Gospels or in Paul’s leers. Rather than being God, critics say the New Testament actually asserts that Jesus was the agent of God, entirely subordinate to the Father.
For example, in John 14:28, Jesus declares, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.” Likewise, Mark 13:32 has Jesus saying, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If Jesus is coequal with the Father, how could Jesus, or God, not know something?
REACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS ...
The fact is that we will not find a Scripture passage where Jesus explicitly says the words, “I am God.” However, this does not mean he did not make such a claim. On the contrary, he does so several times. One clue we have that this was the case is the reaction of Jesus’ original audiences.
Consider the story of Jesus reading a passage from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free ..." (Lk 4:18) Upon finishing, Jesus claimed that the day foretold by the prophet had been fulfilled before the people’s eyes. At first, the crowd was confused, then they became angry. They drove Jesus out of the city and sought to throw him off a mountain. (Lk 4:28-29)
Catholic author Gary Michuta points to the reaction of the high priest to Jesus’ response during his trial before the Sanhedrin. The high priest asked Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus answered, “‘You have said so.’ But I tell you: From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” The high priest then tore his garments and declared that Jesus had committed blasphemy. (Mt 26:63-65)
Where did Jesus blaspheme? Michuta argues that Jesus, by quoting the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel in his response, made himself equal to God because the Son of Man receives universal and everlasting dominion. This is what precipitated the high priest tearing his robes in horror.
REVEALED IN WORD AND DEED
While Jesus refrained from any direct statement (he even closed the mouth of a possessed man when he called Jesus “the Holy One of God”), Jesus’ claim to be God emerged from the words he spoke and the deeds he performed. For example, he did not speak like the scribes, but as one with authority (Mt 7:28-29); he pardons sin in his own name, thereby eliciting a charge of blasphemy from the scribes (Mt 9:1-3); he invokes and applies to himself the personal name of God – “I AM,” which caused his audience to want to stone him; and he claimed he and the Father were one, again provoking the audience to pick up stones to throw at him. (Jn 10:24-31) In addition, there are four times that Jesus claims to be the Son of God: to the man born blind (Jn 10:30,36) and before the Jewish Sanhedrin on the night before his death. (Mt 26:63- 64; Mk 14:61-62; Lk 22:70)
The Gospels abound with other examples as well. Jesus expanded the moral law with his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, exerted power over physical nature with his miracles and expelled demons in his own name. All these acts were acts reserved to God alone.
WHO DO PEOPLE SAY I AM?
Another way to explore whether Jesus claimed to be God in the Scriptures is to consider his reaction to how others addressed him. Nathanael calls Jesus “Son of God” from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. (Jn 1:49) Jesus does not stop him. Likewise, the apostles (Mt 14:33) and Martha (Jn 11:27) give Jesus this same title twice without Jesus’ reproach. Finally, Peter calls him “the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn 6:69) and “Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) Jesus approves both instances.
The catechism tells us that the title “son of God” was given to the angels, the Chosen People, the children of Israel and their kings to signify an adoptive relationship with God. (441) However, for Peter, this was not the case when he witnessed to Jesus’ identity. Likewise, Paul immediately began proclaiming Jesus as the “Son of God” in acknowledgment of his divine sonship. (442) The title “Son of God” signifies “the unique and eternal relationship of Jesus Christ to God his Father: he is the only Son of the Father (cf. Jn 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18); he is God himself (cf. Jn 1:1).” (454) Jesus’ allowance of others to assign this title to him, then, is another implicit way he claimed to be God. Of course, like Peter, we can only recognize Jesus as God through God’s gift of revelation through the power of the Holy Spirit.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Consider prayerfully reading the following Scripture passage:
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:24-29 NAB)
- What does this passage suggest about Jesus’ claim to divinity?
- How does the faith of the believer factor into one’s recognition of Jesus as God?
- How might the passage help you answer the question, “Did Jesus claim to be God?”