...awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity... Titus 2:13-14
For most Catholic Christians, Christ's divinity is taken for granted. Today, however, this belief is being challenged, attacked and denied on several fronts. Jehovah Witnesses claim that Jesus was merely Michael the Archangel in human form, while Mormons reduce His divinity by claiming that everyone can be a god. Most cults also deny that Christ is God. Even some theologians seriously challenge this traditional belief. Others claim that Jesus was unaware of His divinity until after His Resurrection.
Assuming that the Gospels are at least historically reliable, Jesus many times claims to be someone quite special. In Mark 2:28, Jesus claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). He also claims to be greater than the Prophet Jonah (Matt 12:41), King Solomon (Matt 12:42) and even the Temple (Matt 12:6). According to Mark 2:1-12, Jesus claims authority to forgive sins and performs a miraculous cure to prove it. The scribes are angered because they believe that only God has the authority to forgive sins. These claims are quite extraordinary for someone who is "humble in heart." [Matt 11:29]
Jesus, while arguing with the scribes, makes an interesting statement about Himself and Abraham:
Jesus answered them: "I solemnly declare it: before Abraham came to be, I AM." At that they picked up rocks to throw at Jesus... [John 8:58-59; NAB]
Jesus claims to have existed also before Abraham - something impossible for a mere human. Moreover the statement sounds grammatically awkward due to tense disagreement. It would sound better if He had said "I WAS" instead of "I AM." The present tense implies Christ's eternal existence as God.
Even though Jesus does not explicitly call Himself "God", He does refer to Himself with a form of God's name. The full meaning of His statement in John 8:58 is best understood in connection with Exodus 3:14. In Exodus God reveals His name to Moses:
God replied, "I AM WHO AM." Then He added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." [Exodus 3:14; NAB]
God's name - YHWH (Yahweh) - translates as "I AM WHO AM" or simply "I AM." In John 8:24 & 58, Jesus is referring to Himself with God's name. The scribes understand Him as such and respond by throwing rocks at Him. They wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy - referring to Himself as God (John 5:18).
Other people in the Gospels also bear witness to His divinity. Even before His birth, He is referred to as Lord. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth greets the pregnant Mary:
"But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" [Luke 1:43; NAB]
Elizabeth refers to Mary as "the mother of my Lord." Elsewhere in Luke 1, the title "Lord" refers to God, e.g. "an angel of the Lord" [Luke 1:11]. It should be noted that the name YHWH, being too sacred, could not be uttered, so the Hebrews said "Lord" instead. This passage in Luke suggests that Jesus was God while in the womb of Mary. Also when Jesus was an infant, the wise men worshipped Him according to Matthew 2:11. If the Christ Child were not divine, then this Gospel passage would present idolatry in a positive light. Later Jesus even allows people to worship-adore Him, as in John 9: 38. Finally after the Resurrection, Thomas greets Jesus as "My Lord and my God." [John 20:28; cf. Ps 35:23] Jesus confirms this greeting without any hesitation, objection or correction. As a teacher Jesus would be obliged to correct an error, especially a blasphemous error.
According to secular reports, the 2nd-century Christians worshipped Christ as God. Pagans mocked the early Christians for worshipping a crucified God. According to 2nd-century Roman graffiti discovered in 1856 on Palatine, a Christian is caricatured as praying to a crucified figure. Its caption reads, "Alexamenos worships his god." In 111 A.D. Pliny the Younger wrote in a letter to Emperor Trajan about Christians:
...it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turn a form of words to Christ as a god." [Pliny, Epistle 97]
At least to the 2nd-century pagans, it appeared that Christians considered Jesus as their God.
Some may object to Christ's divinity and cite Bible verses pertaining to His humanity, e.g.:
...there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. [1 Tim 2:5]
Now it must be understood that Jesus Christ is also human. This mystery is called the Incarnation - God becoming man (Gal 4:4). As St. Paul writes:
In Christ the fullness of Deity resides in bodily form. [Col 2:9; NAB]
According to the Tome of Leo as proclaimed during the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., Jesus is a divine Person with two natures: a divine nature and a human nature. Christ is both God and man.
Others may object to Christ's divinity and point to Gospel passages that show His lack of knowledge. According to them, the all-knowing God would not need to ask the crowd, "Who touched my garments?" [Mark 5:30] or during the raising of Lazarus, to ask Mary, "Where have you laid him?" [John 11:34] In reply to their objection, it should be noted that these are rhetorical questions and do not prove Christ's ignorance. God the Father does not show ignorance when He asks Adam, "Where are you?" [Gen 3:9] or Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" [Gen 4:9] These questions are meant to draw a response from the people. A teacher may ask his students questions not out of ignorance but in order to test or teach them a lesson.
Now a more troublesome verse concerns Christ's knowledge of Judgement Day:
"But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father." [Mark 13:32; RSV]
Bishop Richard Challoner responds to this verse in a footnote in the Douay-Rheims Bible:
Nor the Son. Not that the Son of God is absolutely ignorant of the day of judgement, but that He knoweth it not, as our teacher; that is He knoweth it not so as to teach it to us, as not being expedient.
In other words Christ knew the Day but was not commissioned to tell us. Some early Church fathers responded by claiming that Christ knew the Day but not through His humanity. For those who are interested, this and other difficult verses are discussed in detail in the book, The Consciousness of Christ by Fr. William G. Most (Front Royal, VA; Christendom College Press, 1980).
Still some may object to Christ's divinity claiming that there is only one God - God the Father. Now it is true that there is only one God; however, God is also Holy Trinity: "...in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." [Matt 28:19] The Trinity is three Persons in one God, and not three gods. Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Holy Trinity - God the Son. According to the Bible, "God is love" [1 John 4:16] but for love to be real, it must be between two or more persons. God the Father and God the Son, being two Persons in one divine nature (John 10:30), love each other. This love is so real that it is the third Person - God the Holy Spirit. This is analogous to the love between husband and wife that results in a child (but of course devoid of time and sex). A good discussion on the Trinity can be found in the book, Theology for Beginners by Frank J. Sheed (Ann Arbor, MI; Servant Books, 1981).
In the Gospel Jesus claims to be an extraordinarily great person yet also humble. Jesus also claims the authority to forgive sins -offenses against God. He claims to be "I AM" -a form of God's name (John 8:24 & 58). The scribes are angered by His claims, seeing them as blasphemy (John 5:18; 10:30). According to the Gospel, even the demons (Mark 1:27) and the weather (Mark 4:41) obey Him. The several references in the Gospel to Christ's human weaknesses do not necessarily void His divinity but are a mystery contained in His Incarnation. As St. John writes: "In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." [John 1:1,14]
Printed with permission from A Catholic Response, Inc.