A Series of Answers to Common Questions

Sam Shamoun


Unlike the OT where Yahweh says over and over again "I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 43:10-13, 44:6-8, 45:5-6, 46:9-11), Jesus never once said those words. Not once did he say, "I am God." Since the God of the Hebrew Bible says it repeatedly why didn’t Jesus ever say it, at least once, especially when this is so crucial to Christian doctrine?


The simple answer as to why Jesus didn’t simply come out and say, "I am God" is because of the confusion this would have caused the Jews living at that time. Noted New Testament Scholar and Catholic Theologian Raymond E. Brown states it best:

"The question concerns Jesus a Galilean Jew of the first third of the first century, for whom ‘God’ would have a meaning specified by his background and the theological language of the time. By way of simplification (and perhaps oversimplification) let me say that I think by a Jew of that period ‘God’ would have been thought of as One dwelling in the heavens - among many attributes. Therefore, a question posed to Jesus on earth, ‘Do you think you are God?’ would mean did he think he was the One dwelling in heaven. And you can see that would have been an inappropriate question, since Jesus was visibly on earth. As a matter of fact the question was never asked of him; at most he was asked about his relationship to God." (Brown, Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible [Paulist Press, Mahwah, N.J., 1990], p. 98)

Another NT scholar, this time an evangelical one, concurs with Brown. Former atheist turned Christian apologist Lee Strobel interviewed Ben Witherington and asked him basically the same question, namely, why did Jesus never come out and say he was God. Here is Witherington’s response:

"The truth is that Jesus was a bit mysterious about his identity, wasn’t he?" I asked as Witherington pulled up a chair across from me. "He tended to shy away from forthrightly proclaiming himself to be the Messiah or Son of God. Was that because he didn’t think of himself in those terms or because he had other reasons?"

"No, it’s not because he didn’t think of himself in those terms," Witherington said as he settled into his chair and crossed his legs. "If he had simply announced, ‘Hi, folks; I’m God,’ that would have been heard as ‘I’m Yahweh,’ because the Jews of his day didn’t have any concept of the Trinity. They only knew of God the Father–whom they called Yahweh–and not God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.

"So if someone were to say he was God, that wouldn’t have made any sense to them and would have been seen as clear-cut blasphemy. And it would have been counterproductive to Jesus in his efforts to get people to listen to his message.

"Besides, there were already a host of expectations about what the Messiah would look like, and Jesus didn’t want to be pigeonholed into somebody else’s categories. Consequently, he was very careful about what he said publicly. In private with his disciples–that was a different story, but the gospels primarily tell us about what he did in public." (Strobel, The Case For Christ [Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, MI, 1998 - Pocket Size Edition], pp. 178-179)

Therefore, for Jesus to say that he was God without qualification would have meant that he was claiming to be the same Person commonly referred to by both Jews and Christians as the Father. Yet Jesus was not the same Person as the Father, but was personally distinct from him, although sharing the same essence and nature with him.

This is also one of the reasons the NT infrequently uses the term "God" for the Lord Jesus, as noted by Evangelical scholar Murray J. Harris explains:

"First, in all strands of the NT, theos generally signifies the Father… When we find the expression theos pater we may legitimately deduce that ho theos estin ho pater. And since pater refers to a particular person (not an attribute), the identity between ho theos and ho pater as proper names referring to persons must be numerical. 'God' must be equated with 'the Father.' If Jesus were everywhere called theos so that in reference to him the term ceased to be a title and became a proper noun like 'Iesous, linguistic ambiguity would be everywhere present.

"Another reason why theos regularly denotes the Father and rarely the Son is that such a usage is suited to protect the personal distinction between the Son and Father… which is preserved everywhere in the NT, but nowhere more dramatically than where the Father is called 'the God of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Eph. 1:17) or 'his God and Father' (Rev. 1:6) and where Jesus speaks of 'My God' (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34; John 20:17; cf. Rev. 3:2, 12), or, in an address to Jesus reference is made to 'your God' (Heb. 1:9). God was the one to whom Jesus prayed, the one he called his Father (e.g., Matt. 11:25). It was ho logos, not ho theos, of whom John said sarx egeneto (John 1:14).

"Clearly related to this second reason is a third. The element of 'subordinationism' that finds expression not only in the four authors who use theos as a christological appellation but also elsewhere in the NT may have checked any impulse to use theos regularly of Jesus. By customarily reserving the term theos for the Father, NT writers were highlighting the fact, whether consciously or unconsciously, that while the Son is 'subordinate' to the Father, the Father is not 'subordinate' to the Son. One finds the expression 'the Son of God' where God is the Father, but never 'the Father of God' where God is the Son.

"A fourth reason that may be suggested for the comparatively rare use of theos as a christological ascription was the danger recognized by the early church that if theos were applied to Jesus as regularly as to the Father, Jews would have tended to regard Christianity as incurably deuterotheological and Gentiles would probably have viewed it as polytheistic. If theos were the personal name of the Father and the Son, Christians would have been hard pressed to defend the faith against charges of ditheism, if not polytheism, however adamant their insistence on their retention of monotheism.

"Fifth, behind the impulse generally to reserve the term theos for the Father lay the need to safeguard the real humanity of Jesus against docetic or monophysitic sentiment in its embryonic form. In the early years of the church there was a greater danger that the integrity of the human 'nature' of Jesus should be denied than that his divinity should be called into question, witness the fact that docetism not Arianism was the first christological deviation.

"Finally, the relative infrequency of the use of theos for Jesus corresponds to the relatively infrequent use of ontological categories in NT Christology which is functional in emphasis…" (Harris, Jesus As God - The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus [Baker Books; Grand Rapids, MI; July 1998, Paperback], pp. 282-283; bold emphasis ours)

This doesn’t mean, however, that Jesus in his earthly ministry never told his disciples that he was God in those precise words. He may have revealed to them that he was God in the flesh, but only after the idea had been ingrained in their mind that he wasn’t claiming to be the Father.

After all, the NT shows that even before his death and resurrection Christ’s own enemies understood that he was making himself out to be God, despite also claiming to be someone other than the Father:

"And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:16-18

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’" John 10:27-33

If even his enemies could see that Jesus was presenting himself as God are we to assume that his followers were unable to perceive that this was what he was claiming for himself? Wouldn’t these exchanges leave an indelible mark on the disciples’ understanding of the Person of Christ? Of course they would.

To ask it in a different way, aren’t we safe to assume that Jesus’ interaction with his opponents would have led his followers to conclude that Christ was claiming to be Deity even though he kept going out of his way to emphasize the point that he was personally distinct from the Father? Why, to even ask the question is to answer it. As Harris puts it:

"it is not the passage of time in itself but dramatic events that effect any deepening or broadening of human thought." (Harris, Jesus As God, p. 277)

One such dramatic occurrence would be the resurrection since it is this event that led to Thomas’ high Christological confession, one that he made when he encountered the Resurrected Lord a week after he had been raised from the dead:

"Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’ Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’" John 20:24-29

The foregoing substantiates the fact that the disciples must have understood from the statements made by their Lord and Master (cf. John 13:13-14) that, although personally distinct from the Father who sent him, he was still God nonetheless. It apparently took Jesus’ resurrection for them to be fully convinced of the truth of this claim.

And if Thomas could say that Jesus is God, with Christ personally blessing that confession and without this scandalizing the other disciples, then what’s to say that Jesus didn’t claim he was God in those exact words especially after he had engraved in the minds of the disciples that he wasn’t the Father?

The only problem is that we do not have a record of him actually saying it, at least during his earthly ministry. But not having a written record of Christ telling his followers that he is God exactly in those words is not the same as saying that he never made this assertion, since the Gospel writers did not set out to give us an exhaustive list of everything Jesus said or did:

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John 20:30-31

"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." John 21:25

Thus, to argue, as some do, that Jesus never said he was God in those exact words while on earth solely because there is no record within the NT that he did is nothing more than an argument from silence, which is a logical fallacy. After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, i.e. just because the NT doesn't record Jesus claiming to be God precisely in that manner doesn’t mean that he never did say it, specifically to his followers who believed in him.

More importantly, this erroneously assumes that the only way that the Lord Jesus, or even the NT writers for that matter, could ever identify himself as God is by using this exact phrase. We say this is erroneous since Christ’s Divinity is not based on him having to say, "I am God." Both the words of Christ and the statements found within the NT demonstrate the full Deity of Jesus since they ascribe to him certain qualities, characteristics, and functions which belong to God alone, i.e. Christ is the Agent of creation and redemption, the Sustainer of the universe, has all of God’s essential and omni-attributes etc.

Finally, Jesus’ Divine claims and bodily resurrection so greatly impacted the disciples’ perspective of the Deity that they eventually came to see that the term God no longer applied only to the Father, but could also be used to describe Christ his Son. As Brown noted:

"… I would say that by that time (i.e. the last decade of the first century), under the impact of their quest to understand Jesus, Christians had in a certain sense expanded the meaning of the word ‘God.’ It no longer for them simply covered the Father in heaven; it covered the Son on earth. They had come to realize that Jesus was so intimately related to God, so filled with God's presence, that the term God was applicable to him as it was to the Father in heaven. May I emphasis that this does not involve a change in Jesus; it involves a change and growth in the Christian perception of who he was." (Ibid., p. 98)

The following statement shows that Brown didn’t mean that it was merely Jesus’ followers, and not Jesus himself, who believed that he was God:

"Did Jesus have an identity which his followers later came to understand in terms of his being God? If he was God (and most Christians do agree on that), did he know who he was? I think the simplest answer to that question is yes." (Ibid., p. 99)

This explains the ease with which the following NT writers applied the term "God" or theos to their resurrected Lord:

"Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." Romans 9:5

"while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ," Titus 2:13

"But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’" Hebrews 1:8

"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:" 2 Peter 1:1

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodThe Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." John 1:1, 14, 18

Since by this time the community of believers had long come to realize that the term God was no longer restricted in its use to the Father but could be applied in a broader sense to Christ without this blurring their personal distinctions, i.e. the Father and the Son are not the same Person but two distinct Persons who have personal, intimate communion with each other.

Harris sums up the significance of these Christological texts:

"This brings to an end our brief survey of these seven crucial passages. First the ascription of the title God to Jesus is found in four New Testament writers–John (three uses), Paul (two), Peter (one), and the author of Hebrews (one). Second, this christological use of the title began immediately after the resurrection in 30 (John 20:28), continued during the 50s (Romans 9:5) and 60s (Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8, 2 Peter 1:1), and then into the 90s (John 1:1, 18). Third, the use of ‘God’ in reference to Jesus was not restricted to Christians who lived in one geographical region or who had a particular theological outlook. It occurs in literature that was written in Asia Minor (John, Titus), Greece (Romans), and possibly Judea (Hebrews) and Rome (2 Peter), and that was addressed to persons living in Asia Minor (John, 2 Peter), Rome (Romans, Hebrews), and Crete (Titus). Fourth, three instances in John’s Gospel are strategically placed. This Fourth Gospel begins (1:1) as it ends (20:28), and the Prologue to this Gospel begins (1:1) as it ends (1:18), with an unambiguous assertion of the deity of Christ: ‘The Word was God’ (1:1); ‘the only Son, who is God’ (1:18); ‘my Lord and my God!’ (20:28). In his preincarnate state (1:1), and in his postresurrection state (John 20:28), Jesus is God. For John, recognition of Christ’s deity is the hallmark of the Christian." (Harris, Three Crucial Questions About Jesus [Baker Books; Grand Rapids, MI 1994], pp. 98-99; bold and underline emphasis ours)

And lest the reader wrongly assume that Brown believed that it was only in the last decade of the first century that believers started identifying Jesus as God notice what he wrote regarding Romans 9:5:

#12. Rom 9:5 joins three clauses: "Of their race [i.e., the Israelites] is the Christ according to the flesh the one who is over all God blessed forever. Amen." To whom do the italicized words refer? It has been claimed that this verse has been subjected to more discussion than any other verse in the NT. The problem may be phrased in terms of various punctuations of which two are dominant:

(a) A full stop (period) may be put after "flesh" as in Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, so that the following words become a separate sentence blessing the God who is over all forever–a reference to God the Father. Why Paul should stop at this point in his chain of thought and introduce a doxology to the Father is not clear; for 9:1-5 concerns Christ; and one would expect praise of Christ, not of the Father. Yet if one takes the whole context of Rom 9:1-5, Paul might be praising God for the privileges of Israel that have been listed, especially the gift of the Messiah (Christ). The word order in the Greek offers considerable difficulty for this interpretation. In independent doxologies "blessed" normally comes first in the Greek sentence (II Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3); here it is the sixth word in the sentence. The presence of the participle translated "who is" is also awkward for this interpretation, for it is superfluous. Such a construction is normal only if there is an antecedent in the previous clause (II Cor 11:31; Rom 1:25).

(b) A full stop may be put at the end, after "forever," and a comma after "flesh." All the words after "flesh," then, are a relative clause modifying "Christ," thus: "… the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all God blessed forever." This interpretation would mean that Paul calls Jesus God. From a grammatical viewpoint this is the better reading. Also, the contextual sequence is excellent; for, having spoken of Jesus’ descent according to the flesh, Paul now emphasizes his position as God. The major objection to this interpretation is that nowhere else does Paul speak of Jesus.

Distinguished scholars aligned on both sides of the issue. Personally, I am swayed by the grammatical evidence in favor of (b) whereby the title "God" is given to Jesus. But one may claim no more than plausibility.

263. Already in this APPENDIX under B, in treating passages from the Pauline corpus, I have rejected such texts as Gal 2:20; I Tim 3:16 (footnote 248); Col 2:2-3; II Thess 1:12; and under A above I pointed out a number of Pauline texts that would seem to indicate that Paul did not refer to Jesus as God. Besides Rom 9:5, the only text in the corpus that has serious plausibility as an instance of Jesus’ being called God is Titus 2:13; but this is in the Pastoral Epistles, which most scholars regard as not written by Paul himself. Nevertheless, it might be argued that the Pastorals are in some areas a homogeneous development of Pauline thought, so that the usage in Titus 2:13 may be a continuation of Paul’s own way of speaking already instanced in Rom 9:5, In any case, we should note that an argument based on Paul’s usage or nonusage of the title "God" for Jesus is different from the claim that Paul was so imbued with Jewish monotheism that he could not have thought of Jesus as God. Such a claim assumes that Paul could find no way of reconciling two truths. Even though he may have used other terminology, there is no doubt that Paul believed in the divinity of Jesus (in preexistent categories): Philip 2:5-6; II Cor 8:9. (Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology [Paulist Press, Mahwah NJ, 1994], pp. 182-183; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Since Brown held that this Pauline epistle was written anywhere between 55-58 AD (Introduction to the New Testament, [Doubleday, 1997], p. 560) this would indicate that the late scholar believed that the term "God" was applied to Jesus early on in the Church’s life.

Hopefully, this sufficiently answers the question for all those honestly seeking the truth by God’s grace.

Note: To see where Jesus did say that he is God, albeit after his ascension and glorification, please consult the footnote that is found at the end of this article.

Our good friend Quennel Gale has exposed the lies and distortions of Sami Zaatari's "rebuttal" to my article (1). We also recommend his other response to Zaatari (2).

A Series of Answers to Common Questions
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