Did Jesus’ Followers Exaggerate His Claims to Deity?
By Carey Bryant
Did Jesus ever claim to be God, or was this something his followers made up after his death? In response, Christians typically point to examples in the Gospel of John as evidence of Jesus’ divinity, such as Jesus claiming “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Christians choose these examples in John because they are the most explicit.
Critics, however, are not usually satisfied with this answer. They will sometimes respond by arguing that since the Gospel of John was written last, and that these explicit claims do not appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke (Synoptics), John must have exaggerated Jesus’ claims to deity.
It’s true that Jesus’ claims to deity are more explicit in John than in the Synoptics, but does this mean that the Synoptics portray Jesus as someone less than divine? Clearly not. I believe that there are numerous examples in the Synoptics of things Jesus said and did which together make a strong cumulative case for his claims to divinity.
In the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7), Jesus speaks with unparalleled authority. He says things like “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (5:17). How can a mere man bear such a responsibility? Jesus also “adjusts” the Old Testament law when he says “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…” These passages are usually considered to be claims to divine authority. At the end of his sermon, Jesus claims that he has the final word when it comes to people’s eternal destinies (7:21-23).
Perhaps Jesus’ strongest claim to divinity in Matthew is where he mentions his exclusive relationship to the Father:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (11:27).
Here Jesus shows his divine self-awareness. He claims that the Father has given him “all things,” that he alone knows the Father, and that it is his prerogative to reveal the Father to whomever he chooses!
The final passage (28:16-20) also contains several signs of divinity…
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