Refutation: Is Asking “Where did Jesus say, ‘I am God’” a Good Argument?
Why Did Not Jesus (p) Say, “I am God”? Part-1
The question that Christians do not face
It has always been argued that Jesus (peace be upon him) should have explicitly declared his deity if he was any. To this Muslim query, Trinitarians basically argue that if Jesus (peace be upon him) would have declared his deity then masses would have “confused” themselves in recognizing the person of Father and son distinctly.
Rather than giving any concrete explanation as to how and why people would confuse between the persons of Father and son, Trinitarians compare some titles which Jesus (peace be upon him) was given in the New Testament to argue for his deity! On one particular instance a Christian named Keith Thompson wrote a typical response, “Is Asking “Where did Jesus say, ‘I am God’” a Good Argument?
Therefore, in this response we would analyze how viable it is to argue that people would have been led into “confusion” of differentiating between the persons of Father and son if Jesus (peace be upon him) would have explicitly declared his deity. Besides, we would also consider standard New Testament verses which are overused to impute divinity upon Christ (peace be upon him).
Cliché Old “Confusion” Theory
As we introduced that it is standard Trinitarian argument to claim that multitudes would have confused between the different persons of Father and son had Jesus (peace be upon him) declared his deity! Here is the same argument in Thompson’s words:
The problem is that if Jesus were to come out and say “I am God” without clearly and forcefully establishing his personal distinction from the Father, and His deity in relation to that fact, people would think He was claiming to be the same person as the Father. This is because God was used primarily in reference to the Father and virtually served as His proper name. In other words, to come out and say “I am God” instead of first establishing His distinction from the Father, would lead His followers into thinking He was making himself out to be the Father in heaven.(1) This is why Jesus didn’t just walk around saying “I am God” as the Muslims demand.
If Trinitarian brand of Christianity was “the” divine religion meant for humanity then every prophet of the Old Testament came, besides other things, to explain the status of Jesus (peace be upon him) as god himself! They would have definitely expounded that Jesus (peace be upon him) is the second god-person in the trinity besides Father and Holy Ghost. Under this consideration, it is hard to assume that, “if Jesus were to come out and say “I am God” without clearly and forcefully establishing his personal distinction from the Father, and His deity in relation to that fact, people would think He was claiming to be the same person as the Father.”
Notice another point which Thompson wrote, “This is because God was usedprimarily in reference to the Father and virtually served as His proper name.” The simple query is, if after thousands of years of ministry by multiple Old Testament prophets, if Israelites yet believed and deemed only the “person” of Father with the title of “God” notwithstanding the Trinitarian philosophy of three divine persons then there is more reason to believe that neither prophets taught nor traditionally Israelites believed in any “triune” class of gods lest they would never reserve the term “God” for Father alone so much so that its usage by anybody other than Father, say, Jesus (peace be upon him) would confuse them between the separate identities of Father and Jesus (peace be upon him)!
In fact, traditionally Jews personalized the usage of term “God” only for Father because they had certain attributes recognized on God alone. For instance the criteria that God can never be seen:
I will not let you see my face, because no one can see me and stay alive, (Exodus 33:20)
Therefore, logically, if multiple Old Testament prophets really taught about any so called “triune” god(s) which included Jesus (peace be upon him) in it, then they definitely differentiated between the person of Father who could not be seen at any time as against son, who was visible at all times. Subsequently, any attempt to explain away that followers of Jesus (peace be upon him) could have been “confused” in differentiating the persons in the godhead is mere Trinitarian desperation because based on the attributes it was really very simple job to recognize and differentiate the “persons” in godhead (of course, provided if there was any concept of “persons” and “godheads”).
The dire desperation of Thompson further gets magnified when he made “explanation” like,
In other words, to come out and say “I am God” instead of first establishing His distinction from the Father, would lead His followers into thinking He was making himself out to be the Father in heaven.
Notice Thompson rightly used the very important word “first” but never implemented it when considering deity of Jesus (peace be upon him)! That is, how difficult was it for Jesus (peace be upon him) to “first” expound the difference between his “person” and the person of Father and then claim that he is god – the second amongst the three. However he never did so – not even after his alleged resurrection when he came to meet his disciples. We believe that if at all the concept of “triune” god was viable and warranted then post-resurrection appearance was the most ripe time for Jesus (peace be upon him) to “walk around saying “I am God” as the Muslims demand.” Unfortunately for Trinitarians, Jesus (peace be upon him) again disappointed.
Furthermore, by relying on confusion-theory, Thompson is inadvertently giving no credit to the disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him); it is because, let us assume that most Israelites would have misconstrued Jesus’ (peace be upon him) identity, but this cannot be extended to the immediate disciples who were under his direct tutelage, spending most of their time with him in ministry. Thus Jesus (peace be upon him) must have at least worded his identity to his disciples without any vulnerability of their being “confused”.
From the preceding, does it not imply that Thompson is taking undue liberty of disparaging the intellectual standards of multitudes of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) time. It is because on what basis can Thompson assume that masses could have been led to confusion if Jesus (peace be upon him) would have explicitly declared his deity? Did Jesus (peace be upon him) ever inform so? Or did Holy Ghost reveal so anywhere? What if masses were matured enough intellectually to comprehend Jesus’ (peace be upon him) declaration about himself. Therefore, it is recklessly unwarranted to impress on masses that they all (included disciples)had cluttered mind. Even more so when Thompson accepts, as we would see shortly, that “many” Jews already recognized a separate divine god distinct from the person of Father!
To further analyze the viability of Thompson’s argument, let us take the examination to the next level. We have been dealing with humans who, as per Thompson, were vulnerable to the confusion between the persons of Father and son. So, we would now consider a very intriguing (if not embarrassing) incident from the New Testament where Jesus (peace be upon him) interacts with a non-human being – Satan. Consider the following New Testament account:
Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Then Jesus answered, “Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!‘ “(Matthew 4:8-10)
Notwithstanding the bizarre audacity which mere Satan had against the very god of Trinitarian(s), we need to notice that it required Jesus (peace be upon him) to “worship” Satan!! Now, if Jesus (peace be upon him) was really a God then this was one of those opportune moments where he could have asserted his deity on Satan by explicitly claiming something like: “Go away Satan! You should worship me and serve only me since I created you; I am the Lord your God!” If Jesus (peace be upon him) would have claimed anything of this sort then, firstly, it would have certainly shut Muslims once and for all and, secondly, it would have also taught Satan that besides Father, Jesus (peace be upon him) was also his god and as such he should not have the temerity to ask god-almighty to “worship”him!
Observe we said that it was an opportune moment for Jesus (peace be upon him) to declare his deity explicitly on Satan. It is because, if we concentrate on the sentence construction of Satan, he asked Jesus (peace be upon him) to worship him in thefirst person, notice: “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.”. Therefore, Jesus (peace be upon him) should have taken the situation to remind Satan in the first person that it was he who created him and thus, Satan should kneel down and worship him [Jesus (p)].
However, Jesus (peace be upon him) never did so. He deflected the matter to some third person. There can be either of the two reasons: Either (i) Jesus (peace be upon him) was not divine or (ii) He did not want to “confuse” the poor little Satan into blurring the difference between the so-called “person” of Father and son as Thompson explains!
We think Trinitarians like Thompson would choose the second option for theirdefense of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) deity!
Finally, if Thompson really wants us to consider his confusion theory seriously then he should address the following issues:
1) Why should we doubt the preaching of multiple prophets down through the ages if they were really teaching about any “triune” god concept? It is naturally expected that they must have clarified the different persons in the godhead while, presumably, teaching “triune” gods and thus, the confusion theory is not really viable.
2) Even if we assume that Old Testament prophets did not clarify the difference between the persons of Jesus (peace be upon him) and Father yet, while in his ministry, Jesus (peace be upon him) could have differentiated it very precisely and then declared his deity. This never happened – we expect Thompson to address this.
3) At least in the post-crucifixion appearance Jesus (peace be upon him) could have taken the liberty to introduce himself as the second god-person amongst the three. Surprisingly, even this did not happen!
4) Thompson should address why he has no confidence on at least the immediate disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him) wherein Jesus (peace be upon him) could have at least declared his deity explicitly to them. As close disciples they should have at least not “misunderstood” the “person” of Jesus (peace be upon him) with Father.
5) Finally, why did Jesus (peace be upon him) shy away from asserting his deity on Satan explicitly; wasting the situation where Satan challenged Jesus (peace be upon him) – the very second god-person of Trinitarians – to worship itself in the first person. Was Jesus (peace be upon him) concerned about Satan’s confusion into recognizing the persons of Father and son distinctly!?
Thus, there were more than just one opportunity where Jesus’ (peace be upon him) identity as god could have been declared without any scintilla of “confusions” between him and Father.
Consequently in the absence of clear and explicit declaration of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) deity, Thompson has no other alternative other than manufacture weak aegis of confusion theory under which he can sell the complex and very costlyphilosophy of Trinity.
Rather than inventing escape clauses, Thompson and other Christians should come to terms with the fact that Jesus (peace be upon him) never declared himself to be god since he had no warrant of doing so:
And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say).Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.(Qur’an 5:116, Yusuf Ali’s Quran Translation)
Thompson tried to support the “confusion” theory with the so-called divine “I am” title which is applied to Jesus (peace be upon him). However rather than doing any good, as we would see, it further proves our point that there was just no room that masses of people could have been led into confusion (!):
For instance, Jesus applied an Old Testament title “I Am” to himself, which is significant since he was basically making himself out to be the OT figure known as the Angel of the Lord, the “I Am” of Exodus 3:14! There were many different Jewish strands at that time that already maintained that this figure was God and yet distinct from God.(2) Thus, by using the title “I Am” Jesus was affirming both His deity as well as His distinction from the Father since in the Old Testament “I Am” was applied to both God (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 43:13) and the Angel of the Lord (cf. Exodus 3:14). One needs to understand intertestimental Jewish thinking in order to understand these issues properly. Without this pre-Christian Jewish backdrop in mind Muslims will be unable to understand why Jesus did what He did and said the things He said.
In summary, although Christ didn’t say “I am God” without qualification, which would have led people to think he was the Father, he did apply numerous Old Testament titles of God to Himself while going out of his way to affirm that He is not the Father.
Observe carefully that Thompson, on one hand, readily accepts that “many” Jews “already” recognized a deity other than and distinct from God, i.e., Father. According to Thompson this separate god was recognized as the “angel of Lord”. So far so good!
Nevertheless the problem then begins since Thompson, on the other hand, contradictorily goes on to argue that if Jesus (peace be upon him) would have explicitly declared his deity it would have “confused” the Jews into diminishing the separate identities of Father and son!?
The obvious point is, if Jews really did recognized a distinct god besides God – The Father then there is no basis for the theory that Jews would be “confused” upon Jesus’ (peace be upon him) explicit declaration about his deity!? In fact, on the contrary, Jewish faith should have been further bolstered in Jesus’ (peace be upon him) deity simply because the Jews already recognized a distinct person in the godhead besides Father! Or their faith should have at least grown on the issue that this man Jesus (peace be upon him) is claiming to be the same “divine Angel of Lord” which we now for ages. Therefore, unlike as Thompson wants to portray, “many” Jews recognizing multiple (?)divine persons should have helped them recognize deity of Jesus (peace be upon him)!
Without realizing the flimsy state of his argument to our fundamental query, Thompson proceeded to produce other popular New Testament verses which impute Jesus (peace be upon him) with “titles”; In the process he also claimed that we neglected his “main” argument. In the following passages let us look at Thompson’s “main” argument:
DNST’s Failure to Address my Main Argument
Amazingly, in his article DNST didn’t address the issue of these divine Old Testament titles being applied to Christ in the New Testament at all. He didn’t dispute the fact that these were titles God used for Himself to establish His own unique deity which were also applied to Christ. No adequate explanation of this phenomenon was given by DNST. Instead he asserts that these are “cliché Christian arguments” and moves on, which shows that he could not deal with the central argument and chose to resort to ridicule, dismissal and mere assertion. This is not how you engage in reasonable and honest apologetics.
DNST took the route of ignoring my argument and once again tried to defend the position that if Jesus was God He would have said the three words “I am God.” He also tried to argue that there are texts which show Jesus isn’t God in the New Testament. However, his arguments literally are cliché Muslim arguments which I will refute. After I refute his specious reasoning and arguments, he will then need to deal with these numerous Old Testament titles of God that are applied to Christ in the New Testament.
[Side Note: There is something amazing with these people at answering-islam. They keep coining new names for people whom they “love”, for instance, Thompson now calls me “DNST”. That’s the new “Christ-like” vogue this Christmas, I assume.]
Very soon we will come to Thompson’s “main” argument but before that we would further check if Thompson’s own rationale (in the above quoted passage) would stand any further scrutiny.
Note that Thompson clearly wants to argue that same Old Testament “divine” titles of Father were given to Jesus (peace be upon him), but:
1) How does Thompson confirm that applying titles of Old Testament deity which was “primarily” used for the person of Father (confirmed by Thompson as well) would not further confuse Jews into blurring the difference of person of Father and son!? After all we are using the same titles for Jesus (peace be upon him) as was used for Father in the Old Testament!
How logical is it that if Jesus (peace be upon him) refers to himself as “alpha and omega” (say) then it would not confuse the Jewish mass – they would be crystal clear about this construct; whereas, if he merely refers himself as “god” then Jews would, all of a sudden confuse between the persons of Father and himself. This inconsistency is further magnified in the light of the following two premises:
a) The title “god” with all its imports was a much simpler term for Jews to understand than “alpha and omega”, even more so, when allegedly the same title – alpha and omega – was also used for God-The Father. If the term god “confuses” then “alpha and omega” or any other (indirect) title must “confuse” even more intensely!
b) We already know as Thompson informed that “There were many different Jewish strands at that time that already maintained that this figure was God and yet distinct from God” Therefore, if “many” Jews already knew that there is a separate “divine” person besides Father then there was definitely no room for them to confuse on Jesus’ (peace be upon him) declaration about his divinity with the person of Father.
2) On the foregoing, from a Trinitarian perspective, the “triune” gods of Old Testament were using titles and explicit declaration about themselves. Trinitarians would argue that traditionally Jews accepted triune gods which must have included Messiah (peace be upon him) in it. Therefore, they must have recognized him as a deity. Subsequently, it is straw-man argument to claim that Jews would confuse with explicit declaration but will not confuse if Jesus (peace be upon him) used titles from Old Testament!
Now coming to Thompson’s “main” argument that Jesus (peace be upon him) applied divine titles of Old Testament upon himself. We believe that rather than doing any good, it further jeopardizes the “monotheism”, if any, of Trinitarian brand of Christianity. It is because Bible rampantly recommends multiple Old Testament figures to take divine titles of Yahweh.
For instance, Old Testament uses the Hebrew term “adonay”, meaning Lord, for Yahweh:
“All nations whom You have made Shall come and worship (wayishtahawu) before You, O Lord (adonay), And shall glorify (wikabbadu) Your name.” Psalm 86:9
Yet it also refers to prophets with the same title “adonay”:
“So the King will greatly desire your beauty; Because He is your Lord (adonayik), worship Him (wahishtahawilow)… I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations; Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever. Psalm 45:11, 17
This is merely one instance, please refer to the following paper for a fuller investigation of the biblical “monotheism” as it not merely uses same title of God for mere prophets but it also requires to “worship” them alongside Yahweh, pay them the same reverence as Yahweh, share Yahweh’s throne and finally to take mere church figures as “lord” him-selves and their words at par with Old Testament commandments:
If it is understood that there was no room for Jews to be “confused” if Jesus (peace be upon him) explicitly declared his deity, then, the initial Muslim query still stands: Why did not Jesus (peace be upon him) declare himself to be god explicitly?
Bunch of verses revolving around the banal argument that Jesus (peace be upon him) shared “divine Old Testament titles” are yet to be dealt with which we propose to do in the final installment of this brief series.
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all biblical text taken from Good News Edition.
- All emphasize wherever not matching with original is ours.