Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Question #4 – How Do We Know Jesus Is God? Does It Matter if He Is God or Not?
I find it amazing that the earliest defense we find in Scripture was written, not to affirm Jesus’ divinity, but to affirm His humanity.
John warns against a false teaching that Christ had not come in the flesh. (1 Jn. 4:2-3)
Because of Jesus’ many works and miracles, many of Jesus’ early followers were fully convinced that Jesus was only a divine spirit; that He was only a spirit who “appeared” to be human.
Today, more than two thousand years later, there’s been a 180 degree turnabout, and we Christian apologists find ourselves defending Jesus’ divinity — seldom (if ever) His humanity.“The earliest defense we find in Scripture was written, not to affirm Jesus’ divinity, but to affirm His humanity.”
About a decade ago, I was walking around a nearby lake during the noon hour and was approached by two well dressed men who asked if I believed in the deity of Christ.
I told them absolutely because Jesus is God. Then they responded exactly as I expected and as they had been trained. They said the Bible never teaches that.
I immediately turned to and read John 1:1 (a verse I knew they’d want to bring up) and read that “Word (Logos) was God.” To which they replied, “Well it doesn’t say that in the Greek.”
Since I also had a copy of a Greek New Testament (NT) with me, I handed it to one of them and asked him to point out the error in my interpretation.
They had no more knowledge of the Greek language nor where to find the book of John in a Greek NT than a fish does of the desert.
Throughout the NT God was zealous to announce that Jesus was His Son. (Matt. 3:17, Mark 9:7)
This title has resulted in much controversy throughout church history, particularly in the 4th Century when Arius denied the Trinity and and argued that Jesus was only a created being; that Jesus had a beginning in time and thus was a creature.
Therefore, since Jesus was begotten He was not eternal, and if not eternal then only a creature and not God.“Throughout the NT God was zealous to announce that Jesus was His Son.”
This controversy still exists today between Christian believers and Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and a number of smaller sects.
This is not to say that such groups do not hold an otherwise lofty view of Jesus (even over angels and the creatures), but they do deny His “full” deity.
The problem, they say, is that John 1:1 does not have the definite article and only says “the Word was God.”
Since it does not say “the Word was the God,” it does not affirm that the Word was God and the statement really means “the Word was a God.”
Well if that is what John was communicating there are at least two problems.
First, almost all reputable NT Greek scholars disagree with that reading of the Greek.
Second, such a reading raises a greater problem than it solves because it leaves John affirming polytheism and not monotheism.
The absence or presence of the definite article has no theological significance on this text.
In John 1:1 we also read that the Word was with God and the Word was God.
Thus, the Word is both distinguished from and yet identified with God. That is Jesus is the same as God the Father yet distinguished from the Father.
So the Father and the Son are one in being but distinguished by personality and their work and ministry.
Still, in the final analysis does it really matter whether Jesus is God? You bet it does.“Absolutely it matters that Jesus is God. If He is not God it subverts the entire Christian gospel, destroys the full meaning of Jesus as Divine Redeemer, and robs us of all hope of salvation.”
If Jesus is not God the NT narratives are false and unreliable. If Jesus is not God, He was mistaken about His paternity as He repeatedly declared that He was the Son of God and that God was His Father.
If Jesus is not God and lied about His paternity, He would not be the God-man and would be a sinner like the rest of us.
If Jesus is not God (and a sinner like the rest of us) He cannot be our divine redeemer because the sacrifice must be perfect.
If Jesus is not God we have no savior and we are still in our sins without forgiveness and have no hope after death.
If Jesus is not God we have no mediator between God and man. If Jesus is not God, there is no Trinity as there is no Second Person of the Trinity.
If Jesus is not God, He should have prayed “Father forgive us,” and not “Father forgive them” because He was a sinner like the rest of us.
So absolutely it matters that Jesus is God. If He is not God it subverts the entire Christian gospel, destroys the full meaning of Jesus as Divine Redeemer, and robs us of all hope of salvation.
Thank God that JESUS IS GOD.
To read more Ask Augustine articles that answer the question Is Jesus God?, subscribe to our email list.
Are you a Christian writer looking to publish? Learn more.
Purchase Paul’s book, Ask Augustine here. Pre-order his new book, Mariology: Past, Present and Future here.
The Raising of Lazarus, c. 1530-1535, attributed to Aertgen Claesz van Leyden. SK-A-3480. The Rijksmuseum.