Did Jesus Dodge His Enemies' Challenge Regarding His Deity?
During the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, the Jews surrounded Jesus and challenged Him to come right out and state whether He is the Messiah/Christ (John 10). Of course, both His previous verbal affirmations as well as His demonstrations of miraculous power had already established the factuality of the point. “The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me” (John 10:25; cf. 5:36; “work” is a synonym for the key word of the book, “sign”). Jesus insisted that His miraculous acts verified and authenticated His messianic identity. Their failure to accept the solid evidence of that fact was due to their deliberate unbelief—their unmitigated refusal to accept the truth due to ulterior motives and alternate interests.
So Jesus pressed the point again very forthrightly by stating emphatically, “I and My Father are one.” Observe that Jesus was never evasive. He never showed fear or hesitation in the face of threats or danger. Instead, He gave them yet another explicit declaration of His divine identity, thereby rekindling their desire to execute Him for blasphemy (as per Leviticus 24:14-16; cf. 1 Kings 21:10). But Jesus short-circuited their intention to stone Him by posing a penetrating question: “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” Since the Son and the Father are one, and the miraculous actions that Jesus performed were every bit as much from the Father as the Son who performed them, which sign evoked this violent intention to execute Him? Of course, Jesus knew that they did not desire to execute Him for His miraculous signs. But by calling attention to His ability to perform miracles, He was again “gigging” them with their failure to accept the evidence of His divine identity. Dismissing the obvious conclusion that would be drawn by any unbiased, honest person, they insisted that He was deserving of execution for the very fact that He claimed to be God: “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33, emp. added).
Such occasions illustrate vividly that Jesus unhesitatingly claimed to be God in the flesh. If not, here was the perfect time for Him to correct the Jews’ misconception by declaring to them that they had misunderstood Him. He could have explained that He was not, in any way, claiming to be God. On the contrary, consistent with His entire time on Earth, He proceeded to prove the point to them.
As was so often the case with His handling of His contemporaries, He drew their attention back to the Bible, back to the Word of God (which He, Himself, authored, cf. John 12:48; Miller, 2007; Miller, 2009). The Word of God is the only authority for deciding what to believe and how to act (Colossians 3:17). Jesus reminded them of Psalm 82:6—
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:34-37).
Why did Jesus allude to Psalm 82? Some suggest that His point was that since God could refer to mere humans as “gods,” Jesus’ accusers had no grounds to condemn Him for applying such language to Himself. But this line of reasoning would make it appear as if Jesus was being evasive to avoid being stoned, and that He likened His claim to godhood with other mere humans. A more convincing, alternative interpretation is apparent.
The context of Psalm 82 is a scathing indictment of the unjust judges who had been assigned the responsibility of executing God’s justice among the people (cf. Deuteronomy 1:16; 19:17-18; 2 Chronicles 19:6). Such a magistrate was “God’s minister” (diakonos—Romans 13:4) who acted in the place of God, wielding His authority, and who was responsible for mediating God’s help and justice (cf. Exodus 7:1). God had “given them a position that was analogous to His in that He had made them administrators of justice, His justice” (Leupold, 1969, p. 595). In this sense, they were “gods” (elohim)—acting as God to men (Barclay, 1956, 2:89). Hebrew parallelism clarifies this sense: “I said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High’” (Psalm 82:6, emp. added). They did not share divinity with God—but merely delegated jurisdiction. They still were mere humans—although invested with divine authority, and permitted to act in God’s behalf.
This point is apparent throughout the Pentateuch, where the term translated “judges” or “ruler” is sometimes elohim (e.g., Exodus 21:6; 22:9,28). Moses is one example. Moses was not a “god.” Yet God told Moses that when he went to Egypt to orchestrate the release of the Israelites, he would be “God” to his brother Aaron and to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:16; 7:1). He meant that Moses would supply both his brother and Pharaoh with the words that came from God. Though admittedly a rather rare use of elohim, nevertheless “it shows that the word translated ‘god’ in that place might be applied to man” (Barnes, 1949, p. 294, italics in orig.). Clarke summarized this point: “Ye are my representatives, and are clothed with my power and authority to dispense judgment and justice, therefore all of them are said to be children of the Most High” (n.d., 3:479, italics in orig.). But because they had shirked their awesome responsibility to represent God’s will fairly and accurately, and because they had betrayed the sacred trust bestowed upon them by God Himself, He decreed that they would die (vs. 7). Obviously, they were not “gods,” since God could and would execute them!
A somewhat analogous mode of expression is seen in Nathan’s denunciation of David: “You have killed Uriah the Hittite” (2 Samuel 12:9)—though it was an enemy archer who had done so (2 Samuel 11:24; 12:9). No one would accuse the archer of being David, or David of being the archer. Paul said Jesus preached to the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:17)—though Jesus did so through human agency (Acts 10). Peter said Jesus preached to spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19), when, in fact, He did so through Noah (Genesis 6; 2 Peter 2:5). Noah was not Jesus and Jesus was not Noah. If Paul and Noah could be described as functioning in the capacity of Jesus, judges in Israel could be described as functioning as God.
Jesus marshaled this Old Testament psalm (referring to it as “law” to accentuate its legal authority) to thwart His opponents’ attack, while simultaneously reaffirming His deity (which is the central feature of the book of John—20:30-31). He made shrewd use of syllogistic argumentation by reasoning a minori ad majus (see Lenski, 1943, pp. 765-770; cf. Fishbane, 1985, p. 420). “Jesus is here arguing like a rabbi from a lesser position to a greater position, a ‘how much more’ argument very popular among the rabbis” (Pack, 1975, 1:178). In fact, “it is an argument which to a Jewish Rabbi would have been entirely convincing. It was just the kind of argument, an argument founded on a word of scripture, which the Rabbis loved to use and found most unanswerable” (Barclay, 1956, 2:90).
Using argumentum ad hominem (Robertson, 1916, p. 89), Jesus identified the unjust judges of Israel as persons “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35). That is, they had been “appointed judges by Divine commission” (Butler, 1961, p. 127)—by “the command of God; his commission to them to do justice” (Barnes, 1949, p. 294, italics in orig.; cf. Jeremiah 1:2; Ezekiel 1:3; Luke 3:2). McGarvey summarized the ensuing argument of Jesus: “If it was not blasphemy to call those gods who so remotely represented the Deity, how much less did Christ blaspheme in taking unto himself a title to which he had a better right than they, even in the subordinate sense of being a mere messenger” (n.d., p. 487). Charles Erdman observed:
By his defense Jesus does not renounce his claim to deity; but he argues that if the judges, who represented Jehovah in their appointed office, could be called “gods,” in the Hebrew scriptures, it could not be blasphemy for him, who was the final and complete revelation of God, to call himself “the Son of God” (1922, pp. 95-96, emp. added).
Morris agrees: “If in any sense the Psalm may apply this term to men, then much more may it be applied to Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world” (1971, pp. 527-528, emp. added). Indeed, “if the divine name had been applied by God to mere men, there could be neither blasphemy nor folly in its application to the incarnate Son of God himself” (Alexander, 1873, p. 351, emp. added).
This verse brings into stark contrast the deity—the Godhood—of Christ (and His Father Who “sanctified and sent” Him—vs. 36) with the absence of deity for all others. Jesus verified this very conclusion by directing the attention of His accusers to the “works” that He performed (vss. 37-38). These “works” (i.e., miraculous signs) proved the divine identity of Jesus to the exclusion of all other alleged deities. Archer concluded: “By no means, then, does our Lord imply here that we are sons of God just as He is—except for a lower level of holiness and virtue. No misunderstanding could be more wrongheaded than that” (1982, p. 374).
So Jesus was not attempting to dodge His critics or deny their charge. The entire context has Jesus asserting His deity, and He immediately reaffirms it by referring to Himself as the One “whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world” (vs. 36). Jesus spotlighted yet another manifestation of the Jews’ hypocrisy, bias, and ulterior agenda—their failure to recognize and accept the Messiah. Even if they were sincere, they were wrong in their thinking; but in truth they were doubly wrong in that they were not even sincere—a fact that Jesus repeatedly spotlighted (cf. Matthew 12:7; 15:3-6).
The central doctrine of the New Testament is the deity of Christ. Indeed, with very little exaggeration, one could say that the doctrine appears on nearly every page. This foundational, life-saving doctrine is denied by the majority of the world’s population (e.g., one billion Hindus, one billion skeptics, one billion Muslims, etc.). Since sufficient evidence exists to know that the Bible is of divine origin (e.g., Butt, 2007; “The Inspiration…,” 2001; et al.), one can also know with certainty that Jesus Christ
being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11, emp. added).
Having completed His task to atone for humanity, He has returned to heaven and is seated at the Father’s “right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21; cf. Hebrews 8:1). No other avenue exists by which human beings can be acceptable to deity (Acts 4:12). Indeed, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). May all people humbly bow before Him.
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