XFiles “Friday”: Is Jesus God?August 8, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)
I may be a day late getting this posted, which is ironic considering how anxious Geisler and Turek were to get to this one question. Is Jesus God? Well, frankly no, but they’re going to try and make it sound like he is anyway.
As we have seen, the Old Testament predicts the coming of a Messiah who would be born a man but somehow be God as well (Isa. 9:6). Jesus is the only known person who meets the predicted qualifications of the Messiah. But did he claim to be God?
As in their earlier discussion of Isa. 9:6, Geisler and Turek conspicuously fail to mention the fact that Isaiah did not say anything about Messiah being God. He said that there would be a child born whose name would be called many things, among which is the phrase “everlasting father”—rather a contradiction of the Trinitarian notion that Jesus is the Son rather than the Father, assuming we join Geisler and Turek in jumping to the conclusion that Isaiah means Messiah would be the Eternal Father.
But we’ve looked that that before, so let’s focus on the last part of their introduction. Did Jesus claim to be God? The answer is arguably yes, though Geisler and Turek start out a bit inauspiciously.
Perhaps no claim is more direct than Jesus’ response to Caiaphas’s point-blank interrogation:
“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death (Mark 14:61-64)
Notice that Jesus responded to the direct question with a direct answer “I am.” Referring to himself as the “Son of Man,” Jesus then added that he would be coming back on the clouds of heaven. Caiaphas and his onlookers knew the implication.
Geisler and Turek want us to notice that Jesus responded to a direct question with the direct answer, “I am.” Apparently, they do not want us to notice that the direct question failed to be the key question, “Are you God?”.
Christians, of course, take it for granted that “the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One” is necessarily an incarnation of God Himself. But Caiaphas was not a Christian! Caiaphas’ direct question was about whether Jesus was God’s Anointed—a role that has been held by many mortal men in the past, including King David and even King Saul. This is not a question about Jesus’ alleged deity, it’s simply a question about whether or not Jesus thinks of himself as the Messiah.
The rest of Geisler and Turek’s discussion then proceeds to speculate about the assumed meaning of the things Jesus did not explicitly say. He did not explicitly say, for instance, that the phrase “Son of Man” was meant as a reference to himself. That’s the Christian interpretation of what he meant, but it’s not what you would call a direct and unambiguous claim to deity on the part of Jesus.
They then take the liberty of associating Jesus’ words with a passage in Daniel 7, based on a common reference to the phrases “son of man” and “clouds of heaven.” They then assert that, since the son of man in Daniel 7 is worshiped, and God alone is to be worshiped, therefore by saying “son of man” and “clouds of heaven,” Jesus is claiming to be God. And this is the passage about which they say, “no claim is more direct than this one!” Astounding, isn’t it?
Geisler and Turek move next to the famous passage in John 8:56-59, where Jesus says “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Moses, of course, once reported that God gave His name as being “I AM,” and that’s enough to convince them that Jesus is making an unmistakable claim to deity here. And perhaps he was, or at least claiming to speak on behalf of a deity. Then again, perhaps he was just starting to say something about God and quickly interrupted himself when he saw the crowd suddenly reaching for rocks to throw. Sometimes a quick getaway is the best response to a crowd of offended God-fearers.
Geisler and Turek then offer this little gem of reasoning:
For those who continue to say, “No, Jesus never claimed to be God,” we have a question: If Jesus didn’t claim to be God, then why was he killed?
Wow, I’d have never thought of that one. So you had to claim to be God to get yourself crucified in those days? Gimme a break. Jesus was executed by the religious authorities because he was a growing threat to their religious authority, at a time when politics could easily turn lethal, even without bribes and corruption. It wasn’t just that Jesus was accusing them of being hypocrites, sinners, a “brood of vipers” and worse, it was that more and more people were believing him. God or no God, Jesus was a political problem with a pragmatic, if murderous, solution.
That apparently wraps up what Geisler and Turek regard as Jesus’ direct claims to deity. Next week we’ll look at what they call his “indirect claims” to be God. They’re not paying a whole lot of attention to the role of the prophet in Jewish culture, or the possibility that Jesus might have been voice to a bunch of “Thus saith the Lord” announcements without explicitly reciting “Thus saith the Lord,” but perhaps we can take a look at that next time.