Was Jesus Fully God and Fully Human?
In the previous post I argued for the logical possibility of the Incarnation, so today I’d like to establish its biblical foundation. This will be review for some readers, but it’s important review because this doctrine is the absolute bedrock of the Christian faith. For example, this doctrine alone is what allows us to claim that God’s eternal nature is revealed in the unsurpassable love that was demonstrated on the cross (I Jn 3:16). If the one who died a human death on the cross was something less than God, then God is something less than unsurpassable love. What concerns me is that more and more “progressive minded” Christians are beginning to question the validity of this doctrine.
To begin, while some people in the ancient world denied it (they were called “docetists”), the New Testament is very clear that Jesus was fully human. He had to grow in wisdom (Lk 2:52) and learn obedience by going through trials, just like every other human being (Heb. 5:8). He grew hungry and tired, like the rest of us. He experienced the same range of emotions as the rest of us and was tempted in all the ways we are (4:15). He was, and is, human in every respect that we are human.
Yet, the New Testament also clearly teaches us that Jesus is God. To begin, there are a striking number of verses that explicitly call Jesus “God.” John begins his Gospel by telling us that Jesus was “the Word” who in the beginning was “with God, and who was God” (Jn 1:1). Several verses later John reiterates this point when he says that, while no one has ever seen God as he is in himself, the Word, “who is himself God, has made him known” (Jn. 1:18).
Toward the end of this Gospel, we find the risen Lord appearing to the doubting Thomas. As soon as Thomas sees him, he exclaims, “my Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). What is most interesting about this is that, when confused people worshipped either other humans or angels, they were rebuked, for every Jew knew that only God was to be worshipped (see e.g. Ac 10:25-6; Rev.19:10). But when Jesus received these accolades from Thomas, he congratulated him for making a true statement of faith (20:21)! Similarly, in his epistle we find John referring to the Son of God as “the true God” (I Jn 5:20). And Paul refers to Jesus as “God over all” (Rom. 9:5) and “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13).
These explicit references should be enough to settle the matter, but the New Testament reflects the divine of Jesus in a multitude of other interesting ways a well. For starters, we find New Testament authors repeatedly ascribing to Jesus titles and activities that are elsewhere reserved for God alone. For example, the single most common title given to Jesus in the New Testament is “Lord” (kurios) (e.g. Acts 16:31, Rom 4:24, 1 Cor 15:57, Gal. 6:14). This is the Greek equivalent of Yahweh, the most sacred name for God in the Old Testament. So too, the Bible teaches that God alone is judge and creator (Eccl. 3:17, Heb 12:23), yet Jesus is depicted in these roles in the New Testament (e.g. Mt 25: 31-46; Col 1:15-19). Similarly, Yahweh alone is said to be “the alpha and the omega” and “the beginning and the end” (Isa. 41:4, 44:6, 48:12), yet Jesus says this of himself in the New Testament (Rev. 1:8, 18, 22:13).
One of the most interesting evidences of Jesus’ divinity occurs when Jesus says to his audience, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58, emphasis added). The reason Jesus mixes the past and present tense is because by referring to himself as the “I am,” he’s identifying himself with Yahweh who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush saying, “ I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14). His Jewish audience understood exactly what he was claiming for himself, for they immediately picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy (Jn 8:59).
Finally, and perhaps most impressively, the Bible consistently stresses that humans are to pray to God alone. Yet, we find people engaging in prayer as well worship of Jesus throughout the New Testament (e.g. 2 Cor 12:8). In fact, Paul said he wrote his epistle of the Corinthians, “together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (I Cor. 1:2). In first century Jewish culture, to “call on the name” of someone, in a religious context, was another way of saying that you prayed and worship that “someone,” and it was always followed by a reference to “Yahweh.” Here Paul identifies calling on Jesus as the distinguishing mark of what all early Christians did!
In light of all this evidence, I’m convinced the only conclusion we can draw is the one the early church drew at the council of Chalcedon (451 AD); namely, that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. He’s not (as some teach today) simply a great teacher, an enlightened guru, an inspired prophet or an angel: He’s rather “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:14), the very embodiment of God.
Here’s a sermon related to this topic, if you want to hear more.
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