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When was Jesus First Recognized as God?
by Daryl E. Witmer
SKEPTIC: Isn’t it possible that the whole idea of Jesus being anything more than an extraordinary human and spiritual leader was an evolved product of some earlier exaggerated reports about him? Why couldn’t the belief that Jesus is God be the result of a legend that was sourced in his own disciples’ wishful thinking and then perpetrated until it grew to the level of accepted fact during the first few centuries of the common era?
ANSWER: Such a scenario is virtually impossible. A legend of that status would require more time to develop than the time which transpired during the interval between Jesus’ death and the establishment of the Church. Many people who knew Jesus personally were still alive when the doctrine of His deity was being openly taught and accepted by many local churches.
Think about this. If someone began claiming that you were God within a few years of your death, your spouse, kids, and neighbors would probably set the record straight in a big hurry, wouldn’t they? “Hey, he may have been a great guy, but I knew him well, and he certainly wasn’t God!”
Well, many people who knew Jesus exceedingly well not only failed to refute the reports that He was God, but actually corroborated such claims. Reputable historians and writers with no particular religious axe to grind were also sounding a theme that began with Jesus’ own testimony about Himself. Read on…
Circa 32 A.D. Jesus Himself claimed to be God. John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.” This, incidentally, raises an interesting question – who else who has been widely considered sane and respectable, before or since, has ever made such claims about himself?
Circa 33 A.D. Many local Jewish leaders noted and responded with fury to the growing credibility of the claims that Jesus was God. John 8:52-59.
33 A.D. A Roman centurion at the cross said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Mark 15:59.
Circa 32-33 A.D. Those who were closest to Jesus during the last three years of His life acknowledged His deity. “And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'” (Matthew 16:16) And Thomas the disciple once said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
SKEPTIC: But Jesus’ disciples had an obvious agenda and a vested interest. They wanted Him to be supernatural for the sake of their own reputations!
ANSWER: On the contrary, contending that Jesus was God put the disciples in a very awkward and dangerous position with both the Roman government and their own Jewish religious leaders. Most, if not all, of them eventually died for holding to this doctrine. You and I may know of folks who’ve died because of what they mistakenly thought to be true. But can you think of anyone who has ever willingly died for what they knew to be false? These men were very familiar with Jesus.
SKEPTIC: Okay-so a few men were convinced that Jesus was God. But they were the exception, right? A popular book says that Jesus’ deity was never anyone’s official position until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
ANSWER: Don’t believe everything that you read in a bestseller. Rather, consider these historic facts:
Circa 94 A.D. Josephus, reputable Jewish historian, called Jesus ‘Christ,’ said that He was “a doer of wonderful works,” and asserted that “He appeared to His followers alive again” following His crucifixion.
Circa 100 A.D. Ignatius wrote frequently of Christ as God.
Circa 150 A.D. Justin Martyr, an early Christian writer, referred to Jesus as “being the first-begotton Word of God,” and in chapter 36 of his Dialogue with Trypho, says that Jesus was “both God and Lord of hosts.” That was 175 years before the Council of Nicea.
Circa 185 A.D. Bishop Irenaeus referred to Jesus as “our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King.” Against Heresies, Book 1, chapter 10.
Circa 200 A.D. Clement of Alexandria, in chapter 10 of his Exhortation to the Heathen, credited Jesus as “truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe, because he was His Son.”
Circa 220 A.D. Tertullian asserts that the “Son is of one substance with the Father.” (Grolier Encyclopedia, 1998)
232-245 A.D. Thales/Thallus, a Palestinian historian, wrote about the darkness at Christ’s death.
246-258 A.D. Cyprian concurs.
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