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Son of God? Son of Man?
by Daryl E. Witmer
Christians celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ – born into the home of Joseph & Mary, yet God incarnate, Son of God in human form.
HOLD IT THERE. HOW DO WE KNOW THAT JESUS WAS REALLY ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE HUMAN SON OF HUMAN PARENTS?
Well, if He wasn’t God incarnate, who was He – a pathological liar and deceiver? A first century Frank Abagnale? What indication in Jesus’ life is there, anywhere, of that sort of treachery? This life was marked by honesty and integrity. Lying and trickery never surfaced. He was transparent. He epitomized morality.
Or would you suggest that He was wacko, a self-aggrandizing lunatic whose insanity has now fooled the entire world for twenty centuries? If that’s the case, why are there no symptoms of psychotic disorder or aberrant social interaction ever reported or ever anywhere evident during His entire 33-year life span?
BOTH OF YOUR HYPOTHESES MAY OBSCURE THE POSSIBILITY OF A THIRD BY FALSELY ASSUMING THAT JESUS EVER EVEN CLAIMED TO BE GOD. WHAT IF SUCH CLAIMS ARE MERE LEGEND – THE PRODUCT OF HOPEFUL HISTORIC CHRISTIAN CONJECTURE?
But the Gospel accounts are replete with Jesus’ claims to be God. For instance, John 5:18 says: “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own
Father, making Himself equal with God.” In John 10:30 He said, “I and the Father are one.” John 10:33 indicates that “The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.'” And there are also numerous other indications that Jesus actively portrayed Himself to be God.
BUT WHAT IF THE BIBLICAL RECORD IS FALSE? HAVEN’T YOU EVER READ THE MYTH OF GOD INCARNATE, BY JOHN HICK? AREN’T YOU AWARE THAT TODAY VAST NUMBERS OF NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLARS WORLDWIDE NO LONGER BELIEVE THAT JESUS CLAIMED TO BE THE SON OF GOD? HAVE YOU NEVER HEARD OF THE JESUS SEMINAR? THEY CONTEND THAT JESUS ACTUALLY SAID LESS THAN 50% OF WHAT THE GOSPELS SAY HE SAID.
Well, while you’re polling New Testament scholars, you might note that most of them lend very little credibility to the Jesus Seminar. Their academic methodologies are so extreme, subjective, and unconventional that the Jesus Seminar usually gains a lot more media attention than scholarly endorsement. And as for the view that Jesus never claimed to be God, here are a few other book titles to check out: Jesus Under Fire, The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus, and How the Search for Jesus Lost It’s Way.
WELL, ARE THERE ANY WORDS ATTRIBUTED TO JESUS IN THE GOSPELS (AND ACCEPTED AS AUTHENTIC BY REPUTABLE SCHOLARS) THAT ARE RELEVANT TO THE QUESTION OF WHETHER JESUS EVER CLAIMED TO BE GOD?
The answer is,”Yes.” Jesus’ favorite and most common way of referring to Himself was to use the designation, “Son of Man.” That title is used at least 80 times in the Gospels. Many folks probably regard it as a reference to Jesus’ humanity, but in fact it is far more likely a reference to His deity.
Dr. William Lane Craig explains: “In the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man is a divine figure who will come at the end of the world to establish the kingdom of God and judge mankind (Daniel 7:13-14).” Note that
Dr. Timothy C. Tennent elaborates further by pointing out that the Daniel text refers to the “Son of Man” as being given authority, glory, and sovereign power. It says that all peoples from every nation and language group are worshiping Him. Then, with that as background, Jesus testifies before the chief priests and teachers of the law by saying of Himself, “From now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God” (Luke 22-66-71). Tennent explains that “Jesus’ opponents clearly understood [this] to be a claim to deity, and they condemned him to die on the basis of this perceived blasphemy.” They got it, even if many contemporary skeptical scholars don’t get it.
SO THE CASE FOR JESUS’ CLAIMS TO BE GOD HANGS ON ONE THREE-WORD TITLE?
Don’t underrate the significance of that one little three-word title, correctly understood. But, no – in addition to this there are also other ‘implicit clues,’ as William Lane Craig puts it. “Clues sufficient for a high Christological self-understanding of Jesus even in the attenuated 20% of Jesus’ sayings recognized by the members of the Jesus Seminar as authentic.” And the significance of that is to powerfully dispel the notion that Jesus’ claims to deity were mere legend.