This is the concluding section of "Three Crucial Questions about Jesus" by Murray J. Harris, Baker Books, 1994, ISBN 0-8010-4388-3, pages 98-103, which are very helpful to understand the issue what do we mean when we say that

Jesus is God

After laying out the Biblical evidence that clearly Jesus is seen as God on pages 65-98 [there needs to be an incentive to buy this great book], Prof. Harris sums his detailed exegesis up:

General Observations

This brings to an end our brief survey of these seven crucial passages. Seen as a whole, they prompt some general observations. 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 christologica] use of the title began immediately after the resurrection in 30 (John 20:28), continued during the 50s (Rom. 9:5) and 60s (Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 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). Also, the use is found in a theological setting that is Jewish Christian (John, Hebrews, Peter) or Gentile Christian (Romans, Titus). Fourth, the 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).[18] In his preincarnate state (1:1), in his incarnate state (1:18), and in his postresurrection state (20:28), Jesus is God. For John, recognition of Christ's deity is the hallmark of the Christian.

But, you may ask, why are there so few examples of this usage in the New Testament? If Jesus really is God, why is he not called "God" more often? After all, there are over 1,300 uses of the Greek word theos in the New Testament. Several reasons may be given to explain this apparently strange usage.

First, in all strands of the New Testament the term theos usually refers to the Father. We often find the expression God the Father, which implies that God is the Father.[19] Also, in trinitarian formulas "God" always denotes the Father, never the Son or the Spirit. For example, 2 Corinthians 13:14 reads, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." What is more, in the salutations at the beginning of many New Testament letters, "God" is distinguished from the Lord Jesus Christ." So Paul's letters regularly begin, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." As a result of all this, in the New Testament the term theos in the singular has become virtually a proper name, referring to the trinitarian Father.[20] If Christ were everywhere called "God," so that in reference to him the term was not a title but a proper noun, like "Jesus," linguistic ambiguity would be everywhere present. What would we be able to make of a statement such as "God was in God, reconciling the world to himself," or "the Father was in God, reconciling the world to himself" (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19)?

Second, another reason why "God" regularly denotes the Father and rarely the Son is that such usage is suited to protect the personal distinction between Son and Father, which is preserved everywhere in the New Testament. Nowhere is this distinction more evident 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."[21]

Closely related to this second reason is a third. The New Testament clearly indicates that Jesus is subordinate to God. Although they both possess the divine nature, there is an order in their operation. It is the role of the Father to direct, of the Son to obey. Theologians refer to a functional subordination alongside an essential equality. Consequently, Christ can be said to belong to God (1 Cor. 3:23) and to be subjected to God (1 Cor. 15:28). So, then , by customarily reserving the term theos for the Father, New Testament writers were highlighting the Son's subordination to the Father, but not the Father's subordination to the Son. We often find the expression Son of God where God is the Father, but never Father of God where God is the Son.

Fourth, if Jesus had been regularly called "God" by the early Christians, problem would have been created for their evangelistic efforts. Their Jewish friends would have been convinced that Christians had given up monotheism, for there were now two "Gods": Yahweh and Jesus. On the other hand, their Gentile neighbors would have viewed Jesus as simply another deity to be added to their roster of gods.

Finally, the New Testament authors generally reserve the term theos for the Father in order to safeguard the real humanity of Jesus. If "God" had become a personal name for Christ, interchangeable with "Jesus," the humanity of Jesus would tend to be eclipsed; he would seem to be an unreal human being, a divine visitor merely masquerading as a man.


If, then, the word God does not become a personal name for Jesus anywhere in the New Testament, what is the actual significance of the seven uses? As used of Jesus, the term theos is a generic title, a description that indicates the class or category (genus) to which he belongs. Jesus is not only God in revelation, the revealer of God (an official title) - he is God in essence. Not only are the deeds and words of Jesus the deeds and words of God - the nature of Jesus is the nature of God. By nature, as well as by action, Jesus is God. Other New Testament titles of Jesus such as "Son of God" or "Lord" or "Alpha and Omega," imply the divinity of Jesus, but the title God explicitly affirms his deity.

It may help to illustrate the distinction I am making between a proper noun (in this case, a personal name), a generic title, and an official title. Consider these two sentences: Winston Chruchill was a Britisher and a prime minister of the United Kingdom. John Kennedy was an American and a president of the United Sates. In these sentences "Winston Churchill" and "John Kennedy" are proper nouns (personal names); "Britisher" and "American" are generic titles; "prime minister" and "president" are official titles. The parallel sentence relevant to our discussion would be "Jesus is God and the Revealer of God."

Can we, therefore, claim that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is "God"? Yes indeed, provided we constantly bear in mind several factors.

First, to say that "Jesus is God" is true to New Testament thought, but it goes beyond actual New Testament diction. The nearest comparable statements are "the Word was God" (John 1:1), "the only Son, who is God" (John 1:18), and "the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever" (Rom. 9:5). So we must remember that the theological proposition "Jesus is God" is an inference from the New Testament evidence - a necessary and true inference, but nonetheless an inference.

Second, if we make the statement "Jesus is God" without qualification, we are in danger of failing to do justice to the whole truth about Jesus - that he was the incarnate Word, a human being, and that in his present existence in heaven he retains his humanity, although now it is in a glorified form. Jesus is not simply "man" nor only "God," but the God-man.

Third, given English usage of the word God, the simple affirmation "Jesus is God" may be easily misinterpreted. In common English usage God is a proper name, identifying a particular person, not a common noun designating a class.[2] For us God is the God of the Judeao-Chrisitan monotheistsic tradition, or God the Father of Jesus and of the Christan, or the trinitarian Godhead. So when we make the equation in English, "Jesus is God," we are in danger of suggesting that these two terms, "Jesus" and "God," are interchangable, that there is a numerical identity between the two. But while Jesus is God, it is not true that God is Jesus.[*] There are others - the Father and the Spirit - of whom the predicate God may be rightfully used. Jesus is all that God is, without being all there is of God. The person of Jesus does not exhaust the category of deity. So then, when we say, "Jesus is God," we must recognize that we are attaching a meaning to the term God - namely, "God in essence" or "God by nature" - that is not its predominant sense in English.

My analysis of the New Testament evidence for the deity of Christ is now complete. The three branches of evidence we have examined all point in the same direction. Whether we consider the status Jesus enjoys, the functions he performs, or the title he bears, there can be no doubt that the early Christians believed in his full divinity as an essential ingredient of their teaching. Consequently, any modern form of Christianity that has surrendered a wholehearted belief in Jesus' deity has drifted from its moorings and is at sea in a vessel that has forfeited its rating as "Christian." On the other hand, when we bow the knee before the risen Jesus and make the confession of Thomas our own, we are securely moored to uniform Christian tradition and, more importantly, to the divine Person who is at the center of that tradition. Can you - will you - address Jesus with the words "My Lord and my God"?

* Bold emphasis by Answering Islam; this conclusion is particularly important since the Qur'an confuses exactly this issue, see the comments on Sura 5:72.

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