The Deity of Christ is directly spoken of in a number of passages. Romans 9:5, states, “whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” A. Berkeley Micelsen comments “But this one (Christ), who on the human side came from Israel, was much more than a fellow Israelite; he was God over all, blessed forever. … These lines are not a doxology to God, for that does not fit the train of thought. Rather, the lines show how exalted Christ is, which fits the train of thought precisely.”1)A. Berkeley Mickelsen, in The New Testament and Wycliff Commentary (Parallel Edition), The Iversen-Norman Associates (New York, NY: 1971, 1983) p. 549 Paul clearly described Christ as “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). This was consistent with the confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Those who deny Christ was God usually attempted to claim that this doctrine was developed much latter in history. Many cults such as Jehovah Witnesses will identify similar arguments that were popularized by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, stating:

During this fusion of religions, Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea…. At this gathering” Teabing said, “many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon… of course, the divinity of Jesus. …until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet… a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless… Jesus’ establishment as “the Son of God” was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.2) Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday, 2003, p.  233

Obviously Paul was declaring the Divine nature of his Lord centuries before Constantine or the Council of Nicaea. All of the Christian authors that precede the Council of Nicaea proclaimed the deity of Christ in unison with Paul. First century Christians that personally knew the apostles Peter and Paul confirmed this was the doctrine prior the Nicene Council and thus could not have been invented, proposed for the first time, and voted upon in 325 A.D.

Clement of Rome personally knew Peter and Paul, wrote to the church at Corinth, said, “Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God, – as the Judge of the living and the dead.”3)Clement of Rome, The Second Epistle of Clement, chap. I; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 9, p. 251 Had Clement been teaching some novel doctrine to the church in Corinth, they would surely have rejected it since Paul taught for a year and a half (Acts 18:11) in Corinth, as well as writing two epistles to them.

Ignatius also knew Paul and Peter, wrote to the church at Ephesus, another church familiar with Paul’s teaching, stating, “There is one Physician who is possessed of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, – even Jesus Christ our Lord.”4)Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians(Shorter Version), chap. VII; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 1, p. 52 These two citations are significant being set forth to churches established by the apostle Paul and who both received letters from him as Tertullian in the early third century said that these churches still had in their possession the  original handwritten letters of the apostles which any man questioning their own copies could go to these churches to verify. Tertullian wrote, “Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally.”5)Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics, chap. XXXVI; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 3, p. 260 Thus the original autographs of the apostles confirmed that they taught Christ was God and that their followers rightfully believed and taught it to the next generations way before Constantine’s time.

Mathetes, another author in the first century wrote, “As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him…”6)The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, chap. VII; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 1, p. 27 The first generation of Christian that rose after those who knew the apostles personally faithfully repeated this message, as seen in Justin Martyr’s writings, “Therefore these words testify explicitly that He is witnessed to by Him who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ.”7)Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho a Jew, chap. LXIII; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 1, p 229 Such quotations could be exhaustively expanded from multitudes of authors from the ante-Nicene era (100-325 A.D.).

Lest someone would ignorantly claim that all these documents (the New Testament as well as all the early church Fathers that predate the Nicene Council in 325 A.D.) have come under the corrupting hand of redactors interpolating such passages in these ancient authors, we also have sound archaeological evidence from the first century, as inscription from an enemy of Christianity known as The Alexamenos Graffito or sometimes as Graffito Blasphemo.

Aquarian conspiracytruthwatcher Phillip Schaff describes it with these words:

 [T]he discovery, in 1857, of a mock crucifix on the wall in the ruins of the imperial palaces on the western declivity of the Palatine hill in Rome… It shows the figure of a crucified man with the head of an ass or a horse, and a human figure kneeling before it, with the inscription: “Alexamenos worships his God.” This figure was no doubt scratched on the wall by some heathen enemy to ridicule a Christian slave or page of the imperial household… so also the oldest known representation of the crucifixion was a mock-picture from the hand of a heathen…8)Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Hendrickson, 2011, originally published in 1858, vol. 2, p. 272-273

Here the enemies of Christians recognized and scoffed at the fact that they worshiped a figure as God that was crucified and died.  The head of a horse on this figure give further credence of the fact that the God being worshiped here is the God of the Old Testament in human form crucified on a cross. Tertullian explains the heathen impression originated with Cornelius Tacitus, who causes this thinking.

For, like some others, you are under the delusion that our god is an ass’s head. Cornelius Tacitus first put this notion into people’s minds. In the fifth book of his histories, beginning the (narrative of the) Jewish war with an account of the origin of the nation; and theorizing at his pleasure about the origin, as well as the name and the religion of the Jews, he states that having been delivered, or rather, in his opinion, expelled from Egypt, in crossing the vast plains of Arabia, where water is so scanty, they were in extremity from thirst; but taking the guidance of the wild asses, which it was thought might be seeking water after feeding, they discovered a fountain, and thereupon in their gratitude they consecrated a head of this species of animal. And as Christianity is nearly allied to Judaism, from this, I suppose, it was taken for granted that we too are devoted to the worship of the same image. But the said Cornelius Tacitus (the very opposite of tacit in telling lies) informs us in the work already mentioned, that when Cneius Pompeius captured Jerusalem, he entered the temple to see the arcana of the Jewish religion, but found no image there. Yet surely if worship was rendered to any visible object, the very place for its exhibition would be the shrine; and that all the more that the worship, however unreasonable, had no need there to fear outside beholders. For entrance to the holy place was permitted to the priests alone, while all vision was forbidden to others by an outspread curtain.9)Tertullian, Apology, chap XVI; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 3, p. 30-31

There can be no doubt that the apostles and earliest followers of Christ believed He was God. This is not something the apostles made up after the Lord ascended to heaven, but was told to them directly from Christ Himself. Jesus Christ made repeated expressions to identify Himself as God. Consider just a brief list of such claims He made of Himself:

He claimed Divine attributes:

Eternality – John 8:58; 17:5

Omnipresence – Matthew 18:20; 28:20

Omniscience – Matthew 16:21; Luke 6:8; 11:17; John 4:29

Omnipotence – Matthew 28:18; Mark 5:11-15; John 11:38-44

He claimed Divine works:

Forgiveness – Mark 2:1-12

Life – John 5:21

Resurrection – John 11:43

Judgment – John 5:22, 27

 

Charles Ryrie says, “How can anyone say that Jesus of Nazareth Himself never claimed to be God, but rather that His followers made the claim for Him. Most of the passages cited above are from Christ’s own words…. And these claims are for full and complete Deity-nothing missing or removed during His life on earth.”10)Charles R. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, 1986, p. 249 Norman Geisler wrote, “In Light of this, it is no wonder that the Jews picked up stones and accused Jesus of blaspheme when He claimed to be Jehovah. Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:11), but the Old Testament said, ‘[Jehovah] is my shepherd’ (Ps. 23:1).”11)Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, Baker Books, 1990, p. 106 John Stock commenting on the Jews understanding that Jesus Christ was claiming to be God (John 5:18, 10:33): “He allowed it to stand in all its repulsiveness to the Jewish mind, and died without making any sign that He had been misapprehended, He thus accepted the Jewish interpretation of His meaning, and sealed that sense of the title Son of God, with His heart’s blood. Nothing can be clearer, then, than the fact that Jesus died without a protest from claiming equality with God, and thus making Himself God.”12)John Stock, “The God-Man,” in The Fundamentals, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI: 2008, 2 Volume set reprinted from the original four-volume edition issued by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1917), Vol. 2, p. 262

In the second century, Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp who was the disciple of the apostle John, stated, “Therefor, by remitting sins, He did indeed heal man, while He also manifested Himself who He was. For if no one can forgive sins but God alone, while the Lord remitted them and healed men, it is plain that He was Himself the Word of God made the Son of man, receiving from the Father the power of remission of sins; since He was man, and since He was God, in order that since as man He suffered for us, and forgive us our debts, in which we were made debtors to God our Creator.”13)Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk. V, chap. XVII. 2; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 1, p. 545

Even the fact that prayer is casted upon the Risen Lord addresses the fact that He is God, for who else could receive prayers but God? Ignatius in the first century requested the church at Rome to “Entreat Christ for me…”14)Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans, chap. IV; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 1, p. 75 This is simple obedience to Christ teaching to pray in His name (John 16:26).

Josh McDowell noted:

Yes, Jesus claimed to be God. Why should anyone believe it? After all, merely claiming to be something does not make it true. Where’s the evidence that Jesus is God?

The Bible gives various reasons, including miracles and fulfilled prophecy, that are intended to convince us that Jesus is the one whom He said He was (John 20:30,31).15)Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers To Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith,  Living Books, 1980, p. 74

 

Thus miracles are essential aspect to Christ’s claim of deity.16)see Heath Henning, “Proof Christ Performed Miracles,” at http://truthwatchers.com/proof-christ-performed-miracles/  The Jews witnessed the ministry of Jesus Christ firsthand. They saw Divine miracles of creation (water to wine, multiply bread, sight to the blind, etc.). But the Gentiles outside of Israel never saw these things. Why did they put their faith in Jesus Christ as their God and Savior? Sir Robert Anderson answers this question, “But it may be said, perhaps, the Apostle Peter called Dorcas back to life, and notable miracles were wrought by the other Apostles also. Yes, and this would in itself be proof of the Deity of the Lord Jesus; for it was in His name that all their mighty works were done. In His name: not in the name of the Father, but the Son.”17)Sir Robert Anderson, The Lord From Heaven, Kregel Publications, 1978, p. 61 Such creative miracles were performed by the apostles such as healing the man lame from birth (Acts 14:8-15). This confirmed that their ability to heal was from the God they proclaimed. That miracle was performed in the name of Jesus Christ. The thousands of Jewish convert that witnessed Christ’s during His ministry and the Gentiles that believed saw evidence of the miracles done in the name of Jesus Christ confirmed to the whole Roman empire that Jesus Christ is God

 

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Heath Henning
Heath's Testimony Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and eight children.