Argument for the Trinity #7: The Deity of the Persons – Section 4: Still more of the Son

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series The Trinity Series

In this final installment specifically on the Deity of Christ, I will be looking at four kinds of evidence for it:

  • The “I am” statements in John
  • Jesus has all the attributes of God
  • Has divine titles that are explicitly made exclusive to God applied to Him
  • Has divine titles that are only applied to God applied to Him

Let’s jump in to the first.

The “I am” statements in John

In John’s Gospel, there is a pattern to the way the story is told. Instead of hitting many highlights or a certain theme the way other Gospel writers do, John organizes his Gospel into narrative units, combining a miracle, or “sign”, a teaching, and a title for Jesus. This happens seven times in the Gospel. John does many things seven times in this Gospel, but what we will look at are some of the “I am” statements.

In each section, we have an “I am” statement, connected with a title, such as “I am the door”, “I am the bread of life”, etc. In addition to these statements, which happen in connection with a section of the book that also contains a teaching and a sign that are all connected, we also have seven “I am” statements from Jesus that do not have a predicate like these. These aren’t necessarily connected with a specific section, but are spread throughout Gospel. It is well known to many Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians, that one of the most famous verses discussed regarding the deity of Christ is John 8:58:

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am!”

Understandably, the Jews then attempted to stone Him again for blasphemy. The usual argument made by Trinitarians is to link this to Exodus 3, where God appears in the burning bush to Moses and says His name is “I am that I am, therefore, tell them ‘I am’ has sent you”. And of course, since this is the main argument used, this is also the main argument defended against by non-Trinitarians. While this is indeed a powerful text concerning the deity of Christ, it does not stand alone and its impact is not tied solely to Exodus 3.

The fact that there are seven “I am” statements from Jesus with a predicate, and seven without shows that the ones lacking the predicate are not there by accident. It follows the pattern of sevens found throughout this Gospel.  A common objection to the argument for deity from 8:58 is that we can translate the Hebrew of Exodus 3 to say something other than “I am”, and so the connection is just a coincidence and not to be considered as evidence of Jesus’ deity. However, when we look at the book as a whole, we see that this is not a coincidence at all, but that there is a much richer argument here.

The fact is that John has put all these “I am” statements in his Gospel, not just to cite Exodus 3, but actually to go through Isaiah and the “I am” statements there. Let’s consider one correspondence in detail.

Isaiah 43:10

“You are my witnesses,” declares Yahweh, “and my servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe in me and understand that I am he. No god was formed before me, and none shall be after me.

John 13:19

From now on I am telling you before it happens, in order that when it happens you may believe that I am he.

Here, before Jesus’ crucifixion, He predicts some of the details and uses the same wording as what is seen in Isaiah 43, culminating in the “I am” statement at the end. The Greek, ego eimi, is the same in the Septuagint of Isaiah 43 and John 13, and gives us a backdrop for the “I am” statements found elsewhere in John’s Gospel. Jesus uses the phrase to connect Himself with Yahweh in Isaiah.

Later, when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, we read this:

John 18:4-6a

4 Then Jesus, because he knew all the things that were coming upon him, went out and said to them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They replied to him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was also standing with them.) 6 So when he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Does this one verse prove the deity of Christ? Of course it doesn’t. But is this an unprecedented event? It is. Who else, by simply saying “I am” or other simple statement, caused a group of soldiers to fall to the ground? Jesus does not call on God. Jesus is merely identifying Himself and this happens. It is not explained, so we cannot say exactly why it happened, but when put together with other “I am” statements in John, we see a picture. Jesus says that before Abraham was born, “I am”, causing the Jews to want to kill him, Jesus says, “unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins”. Jesus connects belief that He is “I am” with Yahweh’s same statement in Isaiah, and His statement in John 18 causes the soldiers to fall to the ground. These are not coincidences.

Now, let’s look at Exodus 3. There’s another clue that is rarely considered.

Exodus 3:13-15

13 But Moses said to God, “Look, if I go to the Israelites and I say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’ then what shall I say to them?” 14 And God said to Moses, “I am that I am.” And he said, “So you must say to the Israelites, ‘I am sent me to you.’”

15 And God said again to Moses, “So you must say to the Israelites, ‘Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my remembrance from generation to generation.’

Notice that God says to say that “’I am’ sent me to you”, but also “Yahweh, the God of…has sent me to you. This is my name forever…” In the Hebrew, “I am” is ‘eh yeh. The name “Yahweh” is related to it, but if it were a sentence, would mean “He is”. So God says that His name is “I am”, but gave us the name to refer to Him as “He is”, and thousands of times throughout the Hebrew Scriptures that is how people refer to Him. This makes perfect sense since the two names have basically the same meaning, pointing to the self-existence of God, but one, “Yahweh”, makes more sense for His people to use frequently, while the other, “I am”, would be confusing if used frequently by human beings. The close association between the divine name, “Yahweh”, and this scene in Exodus 3 is almost universally ignored by those who reject the Trinity.

And it makes sense for them to do so. God gives the basis of His name as “I am”, and then shifts to a third-person version of that name for the rest of biblical history, and we don’t really hear it used as a name except by Him, as in Isaiah. Then Jesus comes along and is using it frequently. The Jews did not forget about God’s name and where it comes from. The import was not lost on them. They knew the history of that name. They saw what was happening in history.

God says “I am” of Himself –> The people use the third-person version, “Yahweh” to refer to God exclusively, but remember its roots –> Jesus comes and not only uses “I am”, but uses it of Himself.

Further Study: “I am” statements tied to a divine title: Bread of Life (6:35); Light of the World (8:12); Gate (10:7); Good Shepherd (10:11); Resurrection and the Life (11:25); The Way, the truth, and the life (14:6); The Vine (15:1).

“I am” statements without the predicate: 4:26; 6:20; 8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 13:18-19; 18:5

Isaiah cross references: 43:2,5/Jn 6:20; 43:10-11/Jn 13:18-19, 8:28; 52:6/Jn 4:26

Jesus has the Attributes of God

There is an old saying, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” When we think of God, we usually think of Him as having a certain set of attributes that are uniquely His. God is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good, everywhere present, unchangeable, etc. While we may see examples of power and knowledge in the prophets at times, there is a fundamental difference between what we see there and what we see in Jesus. There are statements throughout the New Testament that point to or explicitly ascribe all of these attributes to Jesus. When faced with this wall of evidence, the person who wants to maintain that Jesus still isn’t God doesn’t have any response except to say, “All these attributes don’t absolutely prove He is God. It’s still logically possible to have these as a gift from God, so they don’t prove anything.” Let’s look at a few examples and see what we find.

One of the favorite passages used against the Trinity is found in Numbers, and says that God is not a man. The reasoning is that Jesus could not be God, since He is a man. Aside from the fact that Numbers comes before Jesus, and therefore before God took on humanity, there is another problem with this interpretation: context.

Numbers 23:19

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of humankind, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? And has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

Notice that when this verse says God is not a man, it is in relation specifically to lying and changing his mind. This is in concert with other passages that speak of God’s lack of changing.

Psalm 110:4

Yahweh has sworn and he will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek.”

Malachi 3:6

“For I, Yahweh, have not changed, and you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.

He also warns against trusting men who do change.

Proverbs 24:21

Fear Yahweh, my son, and the king; with those who change, do not associate.

So, it is God who does not change, and it is man who changes. So, which category does Jesus fall into? The answer is clear.

Hebrews 1:10-12

10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the works of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you continue, 12 and like a robe you will roll them up, and like a garment they will be changed; but you are the same, and your years will not run out.”

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

When it comes to the attribute of being unchanging, Jesus sits firmly in the God category. None of this denies that Jesus possesses all truly human attributes, but unlike us, He is also God, and therefore does not change. Some may point to passages that do talk about God changing His mind to jump into a word-study defense, and it is a fruitful study to work out what those passages are saying and how they fit with the passages above. As a defense against Jesus’ deity, though, it only hurts that argument, since it is then saying that some passages say God changes his mind, and some say, in contrast to man, that God does not change his mind. When we look at Jesus, we see no passage that says He changes His mind, and some that explicitly say he does not change at all. So this actually strengthens the case that Jesus is God, since there is a surface-level ambiguity about whether God changes, but not about whether Jesus changes.

Jesus is everywhere-present

John 4:49-50

49 The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go, your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he departed.

Here, as in other places, Jesus does miracles at a distance, not just saying what God will do, but doing the miracle Himself without being physically present (John 4:54). When we look closely, we see that this is not just the same working by the Spirit that Christians are said to do. There are healings in the New Testament by laying on of hands and by prayer, but these are attributed to the Spirit working through believers, and in no case does an apostle or anyone else “perform” the miracle at a distance like Jesus does here.

Jesus is all-knowing

One of the favorite arguments against the deity of Christ is the statement He makes about not knowing the day or hour of His return (Matt. 24:36). Now, on the one hand, this is no challenge to His deity on standard Trinitarian Christology that says Jesus has two natures, divine and human. The fact is that Jesus possesses all human attributes as well as all attributes of deity. How this looks within the Person of Jesus is something we are not told, but we are told here that he lacked some knowledge. There have been various explanations of this, including just what I’ve said here, that, somehow, having two natures, Jesus could be said to not know something (as regards His human nature), but still be all-knowing (as regards His deity). And, when we look to the Scriptures, we do, indeed find that it affirms that He knows all things.

John 21:17

He said to him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed because he said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything! You know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep!

So, like in so many cases, the Scriptures say something very human of Jesus and something very God-like of Jesus. Trinitarians do not have to try to explain away any passage about Jesus, because we affirm both truths of Him. Those who deny His deity do have to try to explain how a human being, however exalted, could know everything if He isn’t God.

For further study:

Jesus is affirmed as being equal with God as to all His attributes: John 1:1; 12:45; 14:7-10; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:13, 15, 19; 2:9; Heb. 1:3

Jesus is self-existent, having life “in himself”: John 5:26

Jesus is eternal: John 1:1-3; 8:56-59; 17:5; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12; 7:3

Jesus is everywhere present: Matt. 8:5-13; 18:20; 28:20; Mark 7:24-30; Luke 7:1-10; John 1:47-49; 3:13; 4:46-54; Eph. 1:23; 4:10-11; Col. 3:11 (Notice in these passages, Jesus just knows or just works and doesn’t need to be physically present. He is not said to be told anything or to call upon the power of God)

Jesus is all-knowing: Matt. 9:4; 11:21-23; 12:25; Mark 2:6-8; 8:31-32 (etc.); Luke 6:8; 10:13-15; 21:20-24; John 2:23-24; 4:16-18; 11:11-15; 13:10-11, 21-29, 36-38 par.; 16:30-31; 21:17; Acts 1:24; 1 Cor. 4:5; Rev. 2:23; compare Mark 13:30-32 (Likewise, Jesus just knows hearts and minds like God. This is not a category given to men. Prophets do get divine insight at times, but Jesus just knows.)

Jesus is all-powerful: Matt. 28:18; John 2:19-22; 10:17-18; 1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2 Cor. 12:9; Eph. 1:19-21; Col. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:22 (While these citations don’t necessarily say Jesus is “all-powerful”, they do refer to His power, and not all texts concerning God’s power say He’s all-powerful, either. What is again apparent is that Jesus possesses power, and it is mighty to accomplish in our lives whatever is needed. Scripture does not teach that Jesus has a different or lesser level of power. Only God has the power to be sufficient for our every need.)

Jesus is incomprehensible to man, like the Father: Matt. 11:25-27

Jesus Holds Divine Titles Made Exclusive to God

For the last two ways Christ’s deity is displayed in Scripture, we turn now to divine titles. These actually fall into two categories. On the one hand, we have titles and names that are used to describe God, and are even said explicitly to be held only by God, yet the word may be used of others. For example, Yahweh says there is no other God besides Him (Isaiah 43:10), yet the word elohim is used in the Old Testament and theos is used in the New Testament of other beings besides Him. So, how is this reconciled in the first place? Scripture doesn’t seem to be concerned about any possible conflict. It is just rather apparent that, while a particular word in the language can be used more broadly, there is a special, ultimate sense in which that concept applies to Yahweh alone.

What is then very interesting, is when Jesus comes along, these titles are then applied to Him. And, if we allow all of the relevant passages to speak, we see that Jesus often has the titles applied to Him in both ways they were used before. In other words, He is spoken of as having the title in just the same, ultimate way that it only applies to God, and also, at times, in a derivative way as well. This is yet another testimony that He is both God and man.

The titles of Savior, Shepherd, Bridegroom, and Rock are some examples of this kind of title. Consider the following passages about Yahweh related to these titles.

Isaiah 43:11

I myself am Yahweh, and there is no savior besides me!

Psalm 23:1

Yahweh is my shepherd; I will not lack for anything.

Notice that with Yahweh as the Psalmist’s shepherd, he lacks nothing. In other words, no need for any additional shepherd.

Isaiah 54:5

For your husband is your maker, his name is Yahweh of hosts; and your redeemer is the holy one of Israel, he is called the God of all of the earth.

If Yahweh is the husband of His people, there would never be a need of another.

Isaiah 44:8

You must not tremble, and you must not be paralyzed with fear. Have I not made you hear from of old and declared it, and you are my witnesses? Is there a god besides me? And there is no rock! I know none!”

What I find so interesting about all of these, is that an opponent would have little trouble finding some verse somewhere that uses these same words of others besides God. They would then conclude that Jesus doesn’t have to be God for these titles to apply to Him. The problem with that defense is that it almost never comes back to the original concept and explain how, if their reasoning is sound, that God can ever claim any exclusivity in the first place. The defense does violence to God’s own words in passages like these just quoted in a vain attempt to keep the New Testament testimony from placing Jesus in the same category as God. Let’s look at just a couple of these.

Acts 4:10-12

let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man stands before you healthy! This one is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among people by which we must be saved.”

So, in Isaiah, there is salvation in no one but Yahweh, and in Acts, there is no other name but Jesus’ by which we must be saved. So, let’s use a little logic here. How many “only” Saviors does the Bible teach?

John 10:11

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Notice that Jesus not only takes over this divine title, but also has no problem calling Himself “good”, showing that He was not denying being good, and therefore, not denying He is God, when he was called “good teacher” (Luke 18:18).

1 Corinthians 10:4

and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

There was a physical rock that the people drank from, but Paul says this represented the spiritual rock. Based on Isaiah, there is no other rock besides God, yet Paul has no trouble saying that the spiritual sustainer of Israel was Christ.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the mere fact that a word or title is not exclusive to God doesn’t preclude Him from making it exclusive to Him in the ultimate sense. Yahweh is our only God, our only Savior, our only Shepherd, Husband, Rock, Judge, and many others. As the New Testament proclaims, Jesus is also, and in the same way, our only God, Savior, Shepherd, Husband, Rock, Judge, and many other things.

Further Study: Jesus as Savior: Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Phil. 3:20; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 2:13, compare v. 10; 2 Pet. 1:11; 2:20; 3:2, 18; 1 John 4:14. Compare with Isaiah 43:11; 45:21-22

Jesus Has Titles that Belong to God Alone

As if all that we’ve examined isn’t enough, there are also some other titles that really are exclusive to God that get applied to Jesus. When we see these titles, we should remember that, to the Jewish person living in the time of Christ or the New Testament church, the following titles would have been even more clear in expressing Jesus’ deity than even just calling Him “God”. As we’ve seen, that word does admit to other referents besides Yahweh. The following titles admit to no other referent but Yahweh Himself prior to the coming of Jesus.

The First and the Last (the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega)

Isaiah 41:4

Who has accomplished and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, Yahweh, am first; and I am the one with the last.

Revelation 1:17-18

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead person, and he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives, and I was dead, and behold, I am living forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and of Hades.

There is no ambiguity that this is Jesus, and there is no other “first and last” besides Yahweh.

Further Study: Rev. 1:7-8; 2:8; 22:13; compare Isa. 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 21:6

King of kings and Lord of lords (and variants): Rev. 17:14; 19:16; compare Deut. 10:17; 1 Tim. 6:15 (Certainly, some Babylonian kings called themselves just “king of kings”, and other people who wanted to keep their heads, but the full phrase or an equivalent is only given to God and Jesus. The phrase itself, like “first and last”, admits of only one member, there can only be one “King of kings and Lord of lords”.)

The Cloud Rider: Through earlier Old Testament, versions of this title are applied exclusively to Yahweh: Deut. 33:26; Psa. 18:9-10; Psa. 68:4; Psa. 104:3; Isa. 19:1. Then, they are applied to the “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14. This comes late in the Old Testament writing, so the other passages would have already been familiar to readers. This was one passage among many that fed the “two powers” theology of God present at the time of Jesus. This theology held that there were two powers that were in some way distinct but who were both Yahweh. So to them, all of these passages applied only to Yahweh. Compare to: Mark 13:26-27; Matt. 24:30; Matt. 26:64; Rev. 1:7. Here Jesus applies this exclusive description of God to Himself without clarification that it applies to Him any differently than it applied to Yahweh

Jesus is a Human Being

Today, in western Christianity, it pretty much goes without saying that Jesus was human. Now, there are certainly some who, lacking deeper study in these issues, may overemphasize in their minds the deity of Christ so that they no longer see Him as fully human, but there aren’t any prominent religious groups that claim to believe in the Scriptures and yet deny that Jesus was a human being. This was not always the case, of course, as even the New Testament writers themselves were contending with early gnostics who were denying that Jesus truly came in the flesh (2 John 1:7).

But it needs to be said that Trinitarians affirm Jesus’ full humanity, and no verse or passage that speaks of His limitations as a human being pose any challenge to the deity of Christ in any way. They attest to the human nature of Christ, just as the passages cited above and in previous articles attest to the deity of Christ.

Conclusions on the Deity of the Persons

As we’ve seen, the deity of Christ is fully grounded in Scripture. It is not based on just a few isolated texts, and the sheer weight and variety of evidence in Scripture precludes any need to postulate other reasons we revere Christ as God, such as pagan religions or philosophy. By comparison, the denial of Jesus’ deity stems mostly from philosophical precommitments to a simpler concept of God and of the Person of Jesus that lead some to try to find ways around these Scriptures. When I was a Unitarian, I felt I had answers for the major, well-known texts concerning the deity of Christ, but, rather than presenting a clear, comprehensive, biblical case against the deity of Christ, my positive case was primarily comprised of incredulous questions about what I felt were logical problems with the Trinity and deity of Christ. I was constantly having to save my theology from the many Scriptural challenges I faced. Ultimately, the weight of evidence was too great and I could see through my own inconsistencies in interpretation and embrace all that Scripture has to say about who Jesus is.

Once that happened, it became rather clear that I had done the same thing concerning the Holy Spirit and had missed another truckload of testimony that He is indeed a person, and God. After understanding all this, it just comes down to learning more and more the ways in which the Scriptures teach all of these truths.

Series Navigation<< Argument for the Trinity #6: The Deity of the Persons – Section 3: More of the SonArgument for the Trinity #8: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 1: Plurality in One God >>

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