Do the New Testament Writers Teach the Deity of Christ?

In order to prove that the New Testament writers teach the deity, or in other words, the Godhead of Christ, it is not absolutely necessary to quote from each New Testament book. For, certain writers being authors of two or more books, testimony taken from the fourth Gospel, for example, will prove that the writer of John’s Epistles taught Christ’s deity; testimony taken from the third Gospel will prove that the author of Acts taught it, etc.

There may be some question as to what is meant by “teaching” the deity of Christ. If that be understood to mean that the New Testament writers purposed to make clear to their readers in so many words that Christ is God, then it may seriously be questioned whether any New Testament writer, with the possible exception of John—who mentions it as part of his purpose—taught the deity of Christ. For in the very few passages that can at all be said to approach the form of a definition of Christ’s divine nature, for example, in Romans 9:5 and certain passages in the first chapter of Hebrews, the author plainly aims, not at a definition of Christ’s deity, but at something ulterior to that. On the other hand, the term “teach” can be understood to mean that the writings of the New Testament embody certain statements, from which by logical conclusion it follows that the writers themselves held Christ to be God. In this latter sense, I assume the term to be meant here. If it is taken in this sense, then there is an abundance of evidence to prove that they all held Christ to be God, that they could not have said what they say had they not held the deity of Christ, that the deity of Christ as a tenet was interwoven with the very warp and woof of their religious teachings, fundamental to them, in fact a presupposition from which all started out.

To begin with, there are passages in the New Testament that in one way or another directly ascribe deity to Christ. Thus it is plain that the Synoptists—which we treat together because it is generally conceded that they are in general harmony as to the portrait they give of Jesus—hold the deity of Christ, from the fact that they record God the Father as saying at Christ’s baptism: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22); and again on the Mount of Transfiguration: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). That it is the metaphysical Sonship which is here witnessed to is plain from the statements made in the same connection. The Holy Spirit and the Father are associated with Christ at baptism. Of Christ it is said: “This is my Son,” obviously in contradistinction to all others, God’s “beloved One,” the One in whom God is “well pleased,” and men are admonished to “listen to him.” Again, a belief in Christ’s deity is evident from the numerous passages recorded by the Synoptists, where Jesus speaks of God, not as our Father, but specifically as “my Father,” indicating a unique relation in which he stood to God. Especially is this plain from the passage in Matthew 11:27, and the parallel one in Luke 10:22, which places Christ on an equality with God the Father: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” It is needless to say that, when the Evangelists speak of God the Father’s testimony, or of Christ’s testimony to his own deity, they silently subscribe to that testimony as embodying their own opinion.

John opens his Gospel with a direct testimony to the deity of Christ, for he begins by saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In fact, if we may take John at his word, his whole Gospel (chap. 20:21), and his First Epistle as well (1 John 5:13), were written with the purpose that his readers might believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the (metaphysical) Son of God.” And this statement regarding his purpose is borne out in the whole of the Gospel and of the First Epistle, by the titles given to Christ. Such are, for example, “Son,” “the Only Begotten,” “the Son of God,” the One “who is in the bosom of the Father.” John’s belief in Christ’s deity is further plain from passages where Christ’s oneness with the Father is emphasized. Significant here is the criticism of the Jews (10:33) in regard to Jesus’ calling God his Father. When Jesus asserted that he and the Father are one, the Jews sought to stone him, and they gave as a reason that they stoned him not for any good work, but because of blasphemy, whereas he, being a man, made himself God. This statement is a plain proof of how the Jews, how the men of Christ’s time, and of how the Evangelists conceived of it, when Jesus spoke of God as specifically his Father. No other interpretation can be given than that they conceived of him as divine, as God.

This direct testimony to the deity of Christ, taken from the Gospels, is strengthened by statements found in Paul’s writings. Of these we can mention but a few.

In Romans 8:32, we read that “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” Obviously here the Son, as well as God, stands outside the category of human beings, for the Son was given or delivered up for them. And the word “own Son,” which is here used for the sake of emphasis, shows Christ’s unique and close relation to God, which, considering Paul’s strict monotheistic conception of God, cannot mean anything else than that Jesus Christ is identical with God.

So also Romans 9:5 seems decisive evidence that Paul teaches Christ’s deity. It is just because this passage seemed to contain such decisive proof of Christ’s deity, that some recent critics have gratuitously attacked the authenticity of the text. And all attempt to explain the relative clause “who is God over all” in any other way than by referring it to Christ must prove futile. The context demands its reference to Christ, since Christ is spoken of in the immediate connection, and it is only natural that, in reading this clause, we should think of him; moreover, the words “according to the flesh,” which immediately precede, lead us to expect some description of the other side of Christ’s person; and besides there would be no sense in inserting a doxology in praise of God the Father at this point. Therefore these words must refer to Christ.

Philippians 2:6 is no less conclusive proof of how Paul conceived of Christ. We read there in the Authorized Version: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God . . .” And “form” here can imply nothing less than that he possessed the whole of the qualities which constitute God. Only so explained can it have meaning that because Christ was in the form of God, he did not need to think it robbery to be equal with God. And so conceived this passage leaves no room to doubt that Paul thought Christ divine.

Of the many proof-texts in Hebrews I will cite merely one. In 1:8, the writer, quoting an Old Testament passage, ascribes deity to the Son by saying: “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.’”

Peter likewise ascribes deity to Christ, when, in his great speech in Acts 2:34, he says: “For David is not ascended into the heavens, but he saith himself: ‘The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy foes thy footstool’” (kjv). Here Peter quotes the same Old Testament passage to which Christ had reference when he proved to the Jews the deity of the Messiah. It admits of no doubt, therefore, it seems to me, that Peter, in appropriating that text as embodying his own opinion, meant to ascribe deity to Christ. So also in the tenth chapter of Acts, verse 36, Peter calls Christ “Lord of all.” This he could not say if he did not think Christ divine.

In James and Jude, short epistles themselves, the passages which point to the deity of Christ are necessarily few. But even there it seems to allow of no doubt that Christ was conceived of as divine. In the opening verses of his epistle James, in styling himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” by coordinating these two, places Christ on an equality with God. And, speaking in chapter two of the Lord Jesus Christ, he calls him “the Lord of glory.” The idea of the term glory is not merely to attribute glory to Christ, for glory,placed in apposition to Christ,signifies rather Christ, whose being consists in glory. Now such can with difficulty be said of Christ without accounting him to be God himself. In like manner the epistle of Jude contains a passage which, although it does not directly call Jesus God, yet presupposes it. We read in the fourth verse: “Our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The word only is significant. If Jesus Christ is our only Master (Despot), then to the Jewish mind of Jude, Christ must be God, for in the end God was the only Master whom a Jew could recognize.

From this review of the New Testament writings it appears that each of the New Testament writers, in some form or other, directly ascribes deity to Christ. Numerous other texts might have been cited as corroborative testimony. But this evidence, gained from passages in which deity is directly ascribed to Christ, can only be subsidiary. For there is far stronger evidence in other facts recorded in the New Testament; besides the interpretation of even the strongest passages directly ascribing deity to Christ is always subject to debate, the critics who are not willing to concede Godhead to Christ interpreting them in their own way.

Further proof of Christ’s deity I find then, first, in the divine attributes ascribed to him. We have an epitome in Colossians 2:9 where Paul says, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Christ is said to be eternal as God. John says: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Christ to him was “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.” And, “Before Abraham was, Christ is.” To Paul Christ, who had lived and died at Jerusalem, is “the first-born of every creature.” To the author of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So too Christ is omnipresent. To John, though he is walking on the earth, yet he is “in the bosom of the Father.” He is the “Son of Man, which is in heaven.” To Matthew, though he has ascended up to heaven, Christ is with his Church “even unto the end of the world.” To Paul (in Ephesians 1:23,) Christ “fills everything in every way.” Christ is unchangeable.The author of Hebrews tells us that, though heaven and earth shall wax old as a garment, Christ will remain the same. Christ is represented as omniscient.The Synoptists represent him as knowing what is in the heart of man, as knowing what Peter had answered the tax gatherers, as knowing step by step what his life’s course would be. Christ is all-powerful.To Paul he is “the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.” The Evangelists portray him as having command over the powers of nature; the sea and the winds are under his control.

Another proof of his deity is the part he is said to take in the divine works. He takes part in the work of creation. According to John, “all things were created by him.” Paul calls him “the beginning of the creation of God.” He participates in the work of Providence. For, according to Colossians 1:17, “in him all things hold together.” According to Hebrews 1:3, “he sustains all things by his powerful word.” His wonders even are expressive of his deity; for unlike the prophets, who also performed wonders, Christ performed them in imitation of the Father (John 5:21): “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” Christ, while on earth, forgave sins. And “who can forgive sins but God alone?” He shall come, according to the Evangelists and 2 Peter, to judge the world as its Lord, which he could not do if he stood not to it in the relation of Creator to creature.

The Evangelists, Paul, and the author of the Hebrews make him the direct object of the Christian’s prayer. This they could not do if they thought him not God, for only in his Godhead can we find ground of prayer unto him. Divine honor is also given him in making him the object of the Christian’s faith. In John 14:1, Jesus tells his disciples that, as they believe in God, so also they shall make him the object of their faith, or, as some would have it, Jesus tells them he is the object of their faith just as God is. And of this faith in Jesus Christ almost all the New Testament writers speak. In so doing they give testimony to the deity of Christ. Christ it is on whom Christians, according to Peter and Paul, are told to build their hope for time and eternity. From him, according to Peter, Paul, John, and Jude, Christians expect grace. Now how were this possible if Christ were mere man, exalted to heaven though he be? What grace can be had from the saints in heaven, from Abraham or mother Mary, for whom connection with those on this earth is practically severed?

Again, a proof of Christ’s deity is the active part he now is said to take in the work of salvation. The mystical union of believers with Christ, symbolized by the figure of the vine and the branches in John 15 and so often spoken of in Paul’s epistles, implies as a necessary presupposition that Christ is divine, and would be robbed of its meaning if we, in a rationalistic way, understood it to signify union merely with Christ’s teachings. John records Jesus as saying (in John 14:23) that, if any man love Christ, the Father and he will dwell in their hearts. Christ, who has died and departed from this earth, is represented in Corinthians (1:4–9, 30–31; 15:45), as the source of Spiritual Life, as a life-giving Spirit. He is said in Galatians 2:20 to dwell in us, as God is said to dwell in his people. By him (Ephesians 2:1–6) we are quickened from the dead to spiritual life; and at the sound of his voice, as Paul has it, at the last day all men will be called forth from the grave. Such statements cannot be made without an implication of Christ’s deity.

Finally, Christ’s deity is reflected in the life he is said to have led. Already we see the deity revealed in the birth-narrative. The story of Christ’s birth is not that of a natural, but of a supernatural person, the supernatural being not merely implied in the general run of the narrative, but explicitly stated. When Luke mentions the fact of the angel’s foretelling to Mary that she was to be with child of the Holy Ghost, he records the angel as saying: “For this reason (i.e.,just because of the parentage of God), that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called Son of God” (kjv). The passage loses all its force, the reason ceases to be a reason, if we ascribe anything less than deity to Christ.

Matthew records the angel as saying that the child should be called Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” As Matthew speaks of this in connection with the wonderful birth of Christ, it can scarcely be doubted that he meant to ascribe deity to Christ. For how could that child in itself be “God with us” and not be divine? This statement of Matthew has the more force if we bear in mind that Matthew was not educated in the doctrine of modern theology, which teaches that there is something divine in each of us. Again, in verse 21 of the same chapter, the angel says: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The angel there alludes to a statement in Psalm 130 where it is said that God should redeem Israel from their iniquities. In the New Testament Jesus is substituted for God, which fact shows that Jesus was conceived of here as God.

Now the record of Christ’s birth as proof of his deity, though more or less debatable in so far as the Synoptic record is concerned, is fully substantiated by the testimony given thereto by John. In the opening words of his Gospel he says that the Word which is God was made flesh and dwelt among us. Paul, in a similar passage in Galatians 4:4, says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,” thereby testifying to the metaphysical Sonship of the son of Mary.

So also the account of Christ’s life, as given by the four Evangelists in common, can lead to no other conclusion than that they conceived of Christ as God. “No man ever lived as he lived; no man ever spoke as this man spoke.” His whole life’s conduct, from the cradle to the grave, was one grand reflection, not merely of a spotless human character, but of the divine in him. The life he led, the words he spoke, the wonders he did in imitation of the Father, the command he exercised over the forces of nature—all show we are here dealing with someone divine. Christ cannot be a creature of the Evangelists’ fancy. He cannot be a product of their imagination. It lies entirely beyond the reach of possibility for a human being to picture from imagination the life of a divine being. The Evangelists could only record “the things which they had seen and heard” (Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:3). That the writers not merely unconsciously taught Christ’s deity in the portrait they drew of his life, but that they themselves were impressed by the fact that Christ’s life was that of one divine, I think is evident from their acquiescing in the opinion of Peter, when he said, concluding from the life of Christ: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”; and from John’s statement, that “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

In like manner Christ’s death, which is but the culmination of his godlike life, is expressive of his deity. Not as regards that death in itself, for in so far as Christ could die he was not God; but as to the manner in which he died. This already is plain from the fact that the Evangelists record Jesus as saying that he had power to lay down his life and power to take it up again, a power not given to man, but a prerogative only of him, who is Lord of Life. And Christ laid down his life. It was not torn from him. The manner in which he died, and the circumstances attending, impressed bystanders so with a feeling of his deity that the Roman centurion exclaimed: “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39). This statement has worth for us here, not so much as embodying the centurion’s belief, for he could only conceive of this Son of God after his heathen fashion, but for what Matthew and Mark wish to bring out by it. For the statement clearly implies that what to the writers was a fact impressed itself as such even upon the mind of the Roman centurion.

Christ’s resurrection is another proof of his deity. In so far as it was a resurrection from the dead, it was a token of his humanity. But especially as to the fact that God, by raising Christ from the dead, set His seal to all the claims Christ during life had made to deity, does the resurrection testify to the deity of Christ. In this manner Paul finds in the resurrection a proof of Christ’s deity, when he says in Romans 1:4, “and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

From these facts I think it is clear that the New Testament writers—all of them—teach the deity of Christ, that they could not have said what they did say without holding the deity of Christ, that the deity of Christ was not merely an object of belief along with many others, but formed part of the substratum upon which their religious teachings were based, was a presupposition from which they all started out.

This chapter by Harm Henry Meeter is extracted from the 2019 reprint edition entitled Is Jesus God? The Biblical Case for the Deity of Christ by Ichthus Publications.