It seems objections to the Christian faith that are uniformed, poorly (if at all) researched, logically incoherent, and just plain unconvincing to any examination keep coming back no matter how definitively they have been refuted.
The claim that “Jesus never claimed to be God; that’s just an invention of the church” is one of the latest.
The reasoning takes one of two paths. The first, which is the more convincing, is that since the Gospels are second century texts or later all of the passages in which Jesus claims deity are fabrications, and he never actually made any such claim. I’ve dealt extensively with why the late date/scribal inventions argument about the Gospels is not valid here and here, so I won’t rehash that argument.
What I do want to address is the second path, which is that even if the Gospel accounts are reliable, Christ never claimed to be God. As one young man I was talking to rather smugly stated, “You can’t show many any verse where Jesus says, “I am God”.
While he is technically correct – the words “I am YHWH” are never recorded as coming out of the mouth of the Christ, there are so many passages where He clearly claims to be God that I won’t even try to list them all here.
The confusion for many comes from an ignorance of context. To actually believe that Jesus never claimed to be God, one must have little or no knowledge of the Biblical text, first century Jewish culture and religious belief, and ancient Hebrew idioms.
First of all, Jesus’ claim to equality with God is not limited to mere words – His primary method of declaring His diety was with deeds. While the best and most compelling of these was His resurrection, Matthew 11:2-5 explains the reason for His many miracles. It was to prove his divine nature. Also, in Matthew 9:2-7 and in the parallel passage in Luke 5 Jesus forgives the sins of a man that He healed. The Pharisees understood that He was claiming to be God; they intended to stone Him for it.
Actually, one of the best clues to Christ declaring his Godhood is the reaction of the Pharisees to what He does and says. Every time their reaction to His deeds is to kill him, it is because they recognize one of his statements or demonstrations of His deity. Some examples in addition to this incident are John 8:23-24 and John 10:25-33.
At the trial before the Sanhedrin, Matthew 26:63-64, Mark 14:61-62, and Luke 22:66-72 all record Jesus as answering a direct question as to whether He was God by with the expression “You have said it”(Literally, “you yourself have said it”), and it bore the same meaning then as our modern version : “you said it, man!”. In other words, a definitive affirmative answer.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the titles ‘Son of Man’ and Son of God’, in the mind of first century Hebrew theologians as well as the general Jewish populace were titles reserved for God and the Messiah. While some believed the Messiah to be a representative of God much like a prophet (only much more powerful), the other prominent belief was that the Messiah would be God himself. Whenever Jesus referred to him as the Son of Man, or as God as His Father, both the Pharisees and the disciples would recognize His claim to be divine.
And finally, one last point. The jews of the time were very adamant that the worst kind of blasphemy possible was to appropriate for oneself the worship and adoration reserved for God alone. Yet not once did Jesus rebuke anyone for worshipping him. That silence in and of itself is another of His claims of deity.
So, when someone tells you that Jesus never claimed to be God, you can clear up that particular misconception quite easily!
Here is a short list of some of the passages that refute this rather lame argument:
Matthew 9:2-7, 11:2-5, 12:1-8, 16:13-18 and 24-28, 17:1-12, 19:28-29 and 63-64, 28:16-20
Mark 1:2-12 and 24-28, 8:29-30, 9:30-31, 14:22-25 and 61-62
Luke 2:54-49, 5:20-25, 7:20-22 and 48-50, 9:18-22
John 3:13-15, 5:17-24, 8:23-24, 8:57-59, 10:25-33, 14:9-10, 20:28-29