The Importance of Jesus' Self-Identification as God

All too often, I have entered a discussion with skeptics in which I have sought to defend the claim that Jesus is God. One thing that I always mention is that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Of course, this brings the same reaction from every skeptic (in varying language): "You cannot use the claim that Jesus is God to prove that Jesus is God -- that's circular reasoning." At least three things need to be pointed out in response to this assertion.

First, circular reasoning (or better known as "begging the question", aka petitio principii) is an argument that looks something like this:

Syllogism A:
A because B.
B because A

To give an example of begging the question straight out of the skeptics' argument handbook,

Syllogism B:
God exists because the Bible says so.
The Bible can be trusted because God exists.

In this type of argument, no argument exists because the proof of A is founded on B, but the proof of B is founded on A. As such, if the evidence for B is A, but the evidence for A is B, then there is no independent reason to believe either. Thus, I agree with skeptics that if the sum total of the Christian argument is Syllogism B, then there is simply no question that the argument is the the quintessential example of the begging the question fallacy.

But just as there is more to the argument for Christianity than Syllogism B, so too, the claim by Jesus is not an example of begging the question. Jesus is not saying "I am God because I say so, and because I am God you can trust my word." If that were Jesus' claim, I would agree that it is circular. But Jesus' claim of divinity was not made in a vacuum.

Jesus backed up His claim to be God with miracles. He backed up His claim with wisdom and insight. He backed up His claim with the testimony of others. Consider what Jesus answered the followers of John the Baptist when they came to ask Jesus if He was the one they awaited, i.e., the Christ. Jesus said, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: {the} blind receive sight and {the} lame walk, {the} lepers are cleansed and {the} deaf hear, {the} dead are raised up, and {the} poor have the Gospel preached to them." (Matthew 11: 4-5) Jesus' claim to being God had substance to it.

Looking at it from another angle, I wouldn't be inclined to believe my friend Greg if He claimed to be God because I have seen nothing in his life that would lead me to believe he is God. Perhaps if he performed a miracle or two, or showed signs of an uncanny depth of understanding of the ways of God, I may begin to consider the question, but absent such a showing, I respectfully decline to give it a further moment's notice. My friend Greg, good guy though he is, has not demonstrated that he is God in any substantive way. However, Jesus did make those demonstrations. He did perform miracles and showed an uncanny understanding of the ways of God. And He did so while claiming to be God which supported His claim. Thus, it is not begging the question to point to Jesus' self-identification as God as part of the evidence that He is God.

Second, I never use Jesus' claim as my only evidence for the existence of God. A great deal of evidence exists that can be used to establish that Jesus is God independent of whether Jesus ever made the claim.

Third, if Jesus didn't claim to be God, that also speak volumes about who He was . . . and who He was not. The history of the Christian church has hundreds of people who have performed miracles in the name of God, yet none of these people are claimed to also be the Son of God. Why not? Let's start with the fact that none of these others claimed to be God. In fact, if they had claimed to be God, chances are they would not be celebrated as saints of God but as heretics.

Jesus is different than the saints. Jesus' self-proclamation as being God gives us a basis for claiming that He really is God. If Jesus had never claimed to be God, on what basis would we have for claiming Him to be God? That would seem to be reaching conclusions about Jesus' nature and person that have nothing to do with what Jesus said about Himself. If Jesus hadn't claimed to be God, why would I want to believe that He is God? In such a case, wouldn't that really be putting a mantle on Jesus of "Godhood" that He never claimed for Himself? Fortunately, Jesus made it clear in a dozen different ways that He was God and that He was claiming to be God -- not a god, but the God almighty. He did so in deeds and words. Thus, we have a firm foundation for affirming what Jesus already told us.

You may object that I just said that a great deal of evidence exists that Jesus is God independent of whether Jesus ever made the claim, but now I am saying that the claim is necessary to conclude that Jesus is God. Let me clarify: the fact that Jesus made the claim is part of the overall evidence. If He hadn't made the claim, the other evidence might still lead one to conclude that He was God, but such a conclusion would have to be deduced without the benefit of Jesus confirming what the evidence already shows. If the evidence suggests that Jesus was the Son of God but He never claimed to be such, wouldn't that raise even more serious questions about whether it would be appropriate to make that claim in His place? Doesn't the fact that it was Jesus Himself -- the person who actually had the uncanny insight and performed the miracles -- who made the claim to be God greatly strengthen the conclusion reached from the remainder of the evidence? I think so.

The fact that Jesus claimed to be God, while not dispositive of the question, is certainly an important part of establishing His divinity, and it is a mistake to be cowed into thinking that it is a circular reasoning to include it as part of the case for the divinity of Jesus Christ.


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