But Jesus never said, ‘I am God.’
by Eric Chabot
Whenever the deity of Jesus comes up in conversations with people from different faiths, it is common to hear the standard objection, “But Jesus never said, ‘I am God.’” How might we approach this objection?
In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says that if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history. The New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1).
There are some good reasons as to why Jesus would never say “I am God.” The Jewish Scriptures forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). And for Jesus to ever say something so explicit would insinuate that he was calling upon his audience to believe in two “Gods”- the God of Israel and Jesus. Also, for Gentiles, such a claim would allow for Jesus to fit nicely into their polytheism (the belief in many gods).
In Judaism, there is a term called “avodah zarah” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God. In other words, any acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zarah. (2)
One way to answer this objection is to discuss what is called Implicit and Explicit Christology:
Second, remember the following. As Marvin Wilson says:
The God of Israel was distinct in other ways. Yahweh had an invisible presence; he was pure spirit (John 4: 24). On occasion, however, he manifested himself in visible form. Appearances of the angel of the Lord, and the pillar of smoke by day and the fire by night in the wilderness, were external manifestations of the presence of God. God himself is an incorporeal being; he does not have a body. But the Old Testament often describes God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language. The Torah strictly forbids images and idols of Israel’s God (Exod. 20: 3-6). Yahweh could not be represented in material form. Since Yahweh was incorporeal, Israel’s religion could not be destroyed. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in a.d. 70, Judaism was not destroyed. Judaism simply became a religion of the home, a new “temple in miniature.” Throughout Israel’s history, it was God’s intention that his people grasp that he was different from other deities. He was an infinite, invisible, transcendent Being, not some local, destructible, concrete entity shaped by human hands. Divine Presence was not to be equated with physical form or works of art. Yahweh could be worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem or he could be worshiped away from the Temple. When Israel worshiped by the waters of Babylon in captivity, God was there. Today, in theological literature and ecumenical discussion, the Tetragrammaton is usually pronounced “Yahweh.” Whether this pronunciation is exact, or not, must remain uncertain. The lengthy tradition — from Second Temple times — of not taking this sacred name on one’s lips resulted in its pronunciation becoming lost. To avoid possible misuse of the name in synagogue liturgy and Scripture reading, Jews began to render the Tetragrammaton “Adonai,” a tradition that has continued to this day. Today, in addition to Adonai, sometimes other expressions are used in addressing God. These names include Ha-Shem (“ The Name”), Ha-Makom (“ The Place”), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu (“ The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Shekinah (“ Divine Presence”), Ribono shel Olam (“ Master of the World”), Ein Soph (“ Infinite One”), and others. Many Christian scholars, when reading Hebrew texts, usually pronounce the Tetragrammaton “Adonai,” out of respect for the Jewish tradition. (Marvin R, Wilson, Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 139-140).
Also as Everett Ferguson says:
The chastisement of the exile largely cured the Jews of the problem of idolatry. Although difficulties with syncretism continued (identification of the God of Israel with the Most High God of Hellenism) continued, the emphasis upon monotheism was one of the characteristics of Jewish belief. This was underscored in the daily recitation of the Shema. Along with their em…phasis on his oneness, the Jews also emphasized God’s holiness and transcendence. They put equal stress on the personal nature of God and his nearness to this people. In contrast to Greek and Roman thought, for Jews, God is the measure of all things. The effort to preserve proper reverence toward God led the Septuagint translators, the rabbis, and the Targumists to modify some of the anthropomorphisms of the Bible. Instead of making God the subject, they employed the passive voice: “It was seen before God,” “there was happiness before God.” This practice may account for some of the passives in the Gospels. The divine name Yahweh was not pronounced expect in connection with the temple service instead of Yahweh. A number of substitutes for the divine name came into common use. The Targums regularly used Memra (Word) instead of the personal name of God. Other favorite substitutes were “the Name” “Power” (cf. Mark 14:62). “Heaven” (cf. the preference in Matthew for kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God), “Glory.” Sanctification of the name entered into “the Holy One blessed be he.” (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third Edition, pg 538).
Let’s heed these comments by Wilson and Ferguson and take a look at how they apply to Jesus…
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