Was He simply a man or God? How could He be both?
Many people today deny the deity of Christ. In fact, that was the first question that came up in the early church.
The Ebionites denied Christ’s deity and held that He was merely a man upon whom the Spirit of God rested in its fullness. Similarly, Arianism also denied the deity of Christ, holding that He occupied a position somewhere between God and man, that He was the first created being and the creator of all other creatures. Not until the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) was the Arian controversy brought to a head and the eternality of the Son of God plainly stated.
Evidence for Deity
His testimony. In His dialogue with the Jews of His day, who questioned His relationship to Abraham, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). His listeners fully understood that He was claiming to be the eternal “I am,” the Jehovah of the Old Testament, thus asserting Himself as God. In response, they attempted to stone Him to death; to them He was guilty of blasphemy.
Later, at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, Christ said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; see John 5:18, 23; 12:44-45; 14:9). And finally, when He stood before the high priest, He testified under oath that He was the Christ (Matt. 26:63-64).
His eternality. The Old Testament clearly indicates the eternality of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 9:6 declares Him to be not only the Mighty God, but also the Eternal Father (literally, the “Father of Eternity”). Likewise, after prophesying His birth in Bethlehem, Micah says of Him, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).
The New Testament, too, clearly asserts Christ’s eternality. The prologue to the Gospel of John declares:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
Before the beginning of time, Christ existed. He was in communion with God the Father; furthermore, He was God – identical in essence with Him.
Evidence is also found in the Pauline epistles. Colossians 1:16-17 affirms His deity and work as Creator:
In Him all things were created. . . . And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Revelation records Christ’s own declaration:
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (Rev. 1:8).
His pre-existence. For all practical purposes, theologians have accepted the proof of Christ’s pre-existence as evidence of His eternality. Both testaments indicate that the Son of God existed before His birth in Bethlehem. Most of the references appear in the Gospel of John, the stated purpose of which is to show that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 20:30-31; see John 1:15, 18, 30; 3:13, 16; 6:33, 50-51; 7:29; 8:23, 42; 9:39). In Christ’s prayer at the end of the Upper Room Discourse, He made reference to the glory that He had with God the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:5, 24). Such passages that speak of His pre-existence confirm that He is eternal and, therefore, God.
His divine names. Christ’s names are not just titles; they define and describe the person to whom they belong. Some are human designations, such as Jesus (Matt. 1:21), Son of Man (Luke 19:10), son of Abraham, and son of David (Matt. 1:1). Other names denote His deity, such as Lord (Luke 1:16), God (Psalm 45:6; Heb. 1:8), Mighty God and Eternal Father (Isa. 9:6), Immanuel (Matt. 1:23), and Son of God (John 20:30-31).
His divine designations. Primary designations of deity include Elohim. Although that was used of heathen gods and occasionally of men as God’s representatives (Psalm 82:6; John 10:32-36), it is almost universally a reference to deity. Christ is identified with the God (Elohim) of the Old Testament. In Isaiah 40:3 He is called both Jehovah and Elohim (see Luke 3:4).
Study of Scripture reveals the Christ of the New Testament has the title Jehovah or LORD in the Old Testament, where it is used of the individual persons of the Trinity as well as the Trinity as a whole. Isaiah 42:8 states:
I am the LORD (Jehovah), that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.
The name Jehovah can never be rightfully applied to another; it is proper only for One, and this highest name for deity is repeatedly applied to Jesus Christ.
The Jehovah who speaks in Zechariah 12:10, “They will look on Me whom they have pierced,” can be identified only with Christ (Rev. 1:7). And in Jeremiah 23:5-6 Christ is declared to be the “LORD (Jehovah) our Righteousness” (see 1 Cor. 1:30). Similar comparisons in other passages also clearly demonstrate the deity of Christ.
The prologue of John’s Gospel uses the word Logos in reference to Christ, who was in the beginning, was with God, and was God (John 1:1). Just as a word expresses thought, Christ expresses, reveals, and manifests God to man.
One of the highest designations ever used is “only begotten,” which reveals the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. Introduced in the Old Testament, it is explained in the New Testament, where it is used five times in John’s references to Christ (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).
Classical Greek used this compound word to stress uniqueness of origin. It was frequently used to stress the concept of an “only child” or that which was “unique” or “unparalleled.” These ancient Greek usages were also seen in the Old Testament (Judges 11:34, “only child”; Psalm 22:20; 35:17, “unique”). In the New Testament, this term is used in both senses – “only child” (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38) and “unique” (Heb. 11:17). It seems best, therefore, to understand “only begotten” as John’s way of emphasizing the unique relationship of Christ to God the Father.
A similar term is “first begotten” or “first born,” which is used of Christ seven times in the New Testament (Matt. 1:25; Luke 2:7; Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 19; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5). Clearly used in reference to the eternal existence of Christ, it conveys the thought of priority and sovereignty.
Two final designations are “image” (Col. 1:15) and “exact representation” (Heb. 1:3). “Image” denotes a prototype, a revealed reality, while “exact representation” describes the essential being of God as distinctively stamped upon Christ. The Son, therefore, bears the exact impression of the Father’s divine nature.
His divine attributes. Attributes are the characteristics or qualities that reveal one’s true being, essence, or nature. Every attribute related to deity, or ascribed to God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, can also be attributed to Christ.
Five distinctively divine attributes of Christ are recorded in Scripture. Because He is eternal, He is the pre-existent and self-existent One (Isa. 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:1-3; 8:58; Col. 1:15-17; Rev. 1:8). He is omnipresent; in His infinitude, He is present everywhere in the totality of His deity (Psalm 139:7-10; Isa. 66:1; Jer. 23:24; Matt. 28:20; John 3:13). He is omniscient – He knows all men and all things (John 2:24-25; 16:30; 21:17; Rev. 2:23).
He is also omnipotent – He holds power and authority over all creation (Isa. 9:6; Matt. 9:6; 28:18; Luke 8:25; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 7:25; Rev. 1:8). And finally, He is immutable – He never changes; in Hebrews 1:10-12 and Heb. 13:8, Jesus Christ is affirmed as “the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.”
To these five attributes may be added every characteristic or quality of God the Father, such as holiness, truth, justice, and love. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Col. 2:9).
His works. Christ performs works that only God can do. Heading this list is the work of creation (John 1:3, 10; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2, 10). Closely associated with that is His work of preservation (Col. 1:27; Heb. 1:3).
Forgiveness of sins is another mighty work of Christ (Matt. 9:2-7; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13; 1 John 1:9). Only God can forgive sins; because Christ forgives sins, He is God.
By His own declaration, Christ revealed that He was God (John 11:25); only God can raise the dead (John 5:25-29; 1 Cor. 15:21). Closely associated with this, all judgment has been committed to the Son (John 5:22). To Him will be committed the final dissolution and renewal of all things (Phil. 3:21; Heb. 1:10-12; Rev. 21:5).
His role. Christ is to be worshiped and honored (Matt. 28:9; John 5:22-23; 1 Cor. 15:19). He was worshiped by men and angels (Matt. 2:11; Heb. 1:6), and in the future every knee shall bow before Him (Phil. 2:9-11).
Evidence for Humanity
Just as there were those in the early church who denied Christ’s deity, so too some denied His humanity. The pagan philosophy of Docetism asserted that Christ had only a divine nature and that His appearance in the world was an illusion. Apollinarianism, another erroneous view, denied the completeness of His human nature. It acknowledged His deity and that He possessed a real body and soul, but it denied that He had a human spirit.
His incarnation. Through incarnation, Christ took on humanity; the means by which He became flesh was the virgin birth. Christ’s advent has proved to be the central event in history. His historicity is recorded in the writings of non-Christian Jewish and Roman historians.
The New Testament gives the following reasons for Christ’s incarnation: to reveal God the Father to men (John 1:18); to provide an example for us (1 Peter 2:21); to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26); to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); to be a merciful and faithful High Priest (Heb. 4:15; 5:1-2); to fulfill God’s covenant with David (Luke 1:31-33). Being the God-man, His humanity was always perfect (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5).
His offices. While Christ lived on earth, He occupied and exercised some aspects of His offices as prophet, priest, and king. A prophet represented God as the channel through whom His message was delivered to man. Christ called Himself a prophet (Matt. 13:57), but unlike the others, He revealed God not only in His teaching, but also in His person and life.
A priest, on the other hand, represented man before God. Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin and represented the people before God (Heb. 5:1-10). His priestly ministry continues today (Heb. 7:25).
Finally, Christ’s office as king was predicted before His birth (Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33). When He came to earth He offered Himself as the promised King, but His people rejected Him. Although He has delayed fulfilling this covenant, He will follow through at the second advent.
His experiences. Our Lord’s experiences on earth prove His humanity, that He had a human body and spirit (Matt. 1:18; 26:38; Luke 2:52; 23:46). His experiences were common to a human being: He grew up (Luke 2:52), was hungry (Matt. 4:2), thirsty (John 19:28), and weary (John 4:6). He loved (John 11:36) and had compassion (Matt. 9:36), wept (John 11:35), and was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). First John 1:1 applies the empirical tests to show that Christ was seen, heard, and touched by men.
His names. He was called Jesus (Matt. 1:21), a man (1 Tim. 2:5), and the Son of Man (Luke 19:10) – Christ’s favorite title used in reference to Him: self.
Union of God and Man
Much confusion in the early church centered on determining how Christ’s two natures could be Joined in one being without either losing some of its essential characteristics.
Perhaps the most peculiar doctrine of Christ was Eutychianism. This teaching denied the distinction between the divine and human natures and held that the two were fused to form a third nature, which was neither divine nor human.
Another error, known as Nestorianism, carried the dual nature of Christ to an extreme. This attributed to Him a double personality – two natures and two persons instead of two natures united in one person.
The personal union of the divine and human natures in Christ is called the hypostatic union, a concept clearly revealed in Scripture (John 1:1-14; Rom. 1:2-5; 9:5; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 1:1-3). The eternal Son of God took upon Himself a complete human nature and became man. He is the theanthropic person (from the Greek words theos and anthropos) – the God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The classic passage on this subject is Philippians 2:5-11, known as the kenosis passage. This word is taken from the English form of the Greek verb meaning “to empty” in Phil. 2:7: “[Christ] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
Although Christ always existed in the “form of God” (Phil. 2:6, “form” refers to that which is internal or intrinsic in terms of His deity), He did not think this equality with God as a prize to be grasped and retained at all costs. Instead, He emptied Himself by taking the “form of a bond-servant” (same Greek word translated “form” as in Phil. 2:6) and being made in the likeness of men.
The key to understanding this passage is the expression “form of a bond-servant.” Just as a servant is subject to do his master’s will, so Christ came to earth to do the will of His Father in heaven (Psalm 40:7-8; Heb. 10:7). He humbled Himself by being found in “appearance as a man” (Phil. 2:8, “appearance” refers to that which is external) and by becoming obedient to death on the cross. In other words, Christ veiled His preincarnate glory (John 17:5) and surrendered the voluntary use of His divine attributes during His earthly life (Matt. 24:36) so that He might do the will of His Father in heaven as the true Servant of Jehovah (Isa. 52:13 – 53:12).
Many have wondered, Could the Son of God have been tempted as Adam was and have sinned as he did? The view that Christ could sin is designated by the word peccability; an inability to sin, therefore, is known as “impeccability.” Theologians disagree on this point. One confusing aspect is this reasoning: If He could not have sinned, how would His temptations have been real?
Christ, our sympathetic High Priest, is “one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He was not tempted with a view to succumbing to sin; He was tested to prove He was sinless.
It is rationally inconceivable that the immutable, omnipotent, omniscient Son of God could have sinned. He met Satan’s temptations as the God-man and was victorious. And fortunately for us, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Dr. Paul Haik, MOODY, July/August 1985