Did Jesus Claim To Be God?
The idea that Jesus claimed to be God is a very important question. This question is the crux of the argument that CS Lewis famously put out: Liar, Lunatic or Lord? This argument has been used over and over but rarely in the context of the debate. I've wondered why this was and I was actually engaging with a few people at my University who questioned the same thing. What's wonderful is that my amazing and brilliant cousin (who is - agnostic) said that her issue with the argument bears the question: "Did Jesus claim to be God?" and if so, that calls into question other questions like "are the biblical text reliable?" "was His words fabricated?" and so forth.
So I'd like to address this question head-on if I can. This claim made by Jesus that He is God is one that is not found in any other religious text. ie, Buddha, Muhammad, or any other religious "hero". Therefore, let's examine what the Bible says about Jesus and His claims.
Jesus is seen as the Creator of the Universe in the New Testament (John 1:3), and that He is the one who holds everything together (Colossians 1:17). The apostle Paul says that God was manifested in the flesh as Jesus Christ(I Timothy 3:16), and John says that “the Word was God” (John 1:1). It's not exactly escapable that the New Testament writers and followers of Christ saw Him as God. Jesus Himself started these claims: He said that He existed before Abraham (John 8:58), and that He was equal with the Father (John 5:17, 18). Jesus claimed the ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:5–7), which the Bible teaches was something that God alone could do (Isaiah 43:25).
The enemies of Jesus, the Jewish leaders that is, even said in John 10:33, "You make yourself out to be God!"
Jesus was debating Pharisees in the temple when suddenly he told them he is “the light of the world.” It didn't make any sense to hear that from a traveling carpenter from the lands of Galilee tells these masters in religion that he is “the light of the world?” Believing that Yahweh is the light of the world, they replied indignantly:
“You are making false claims about yourself” (John 8:13).
Then Jesus told them that, 2,000 years earlier, Abraham had him. Their response was "really dude..?"
“You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham? ” (John 8:57 NLT)
Jesus replied with lightning:
“The truth is, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58 NLT)
Jesus just claimed eternal existence. Furthermore, he had used the I AM title (ego eimi), the sacred Name of God. These religious masters lived and breathed the Old Testament Scriptures declaring Yahweh alone as God. They knew the Scripture spoken through Isaiah:
“I alone am God. There is no other God; there never has been and never will be. I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior.” Isaiah 43:10, 11)
The penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning, the Jewish leaders eagerly gathered up stones to slay Jesus. They hated that Jesus was calling himself, “God.” At that point Jesus could have said, “Wait! You misunderstood me—I am not claiming to be Yahweh.” But Jesus didn’t alter his statement, even at the risk of being killed.
C.S. Lewis explains this:
“He says...’I am begotten of the One God, before Abraham was, I am,’ and remember what the words ‘I am’ were in Hebrew. They were the name of God, which must not be spoken by any human being, the name which it was death to utter.”
Some may argue that this was an isolated instance. But Jesus also used “I AM” for himself on several other occasions. Let’s look at some of these, trying to imagine our reactions upon hearing Jesus’ radical claims:
“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12)
“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) “I am the only way to the Father” (John 14:6)
“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
“I am the door” (John 10:9)
“I am the living bread” (John 6:51)
“I am the true vine” (John 15:1)
“I am the Alpha and Omega” Rev.1:7,8)
It's clear that Jesus saw Himself as God, that Jewish Leaders saw Himself as claiming to be God, that His followers saw Him as God and that this idea that Jesus didn't claim deity shouldn't be debated.
"It's not questioned that Jesus claimed to be God. That's the issue Jews have with Christianity." - Jewish Scholar, Professor Brettler