December 27, 2014

Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

Did Jesus ever claim to be God? Did He ever use the words "I am God"?

Though Jesus didn't use the exact words "I am God", that doesn't mean that He never said that He is God. One doesn't need to use the same framing of words to convey a message; the same message can be communicated in different compositions of sentences. For instance, note the following sentences which all convey the message, "I am employed."

1. I work for a Company.
2. My boss pays me well for my work.
3. I am very busy at office during the day.
4. The staff had a picnic last Saturday.
5. I would like to change my job.

So, the right kind of question to ask with reference to the doctrine of Christ's divinity would not be "Did Jesus ever use the words "I am God"?" Instead, one should ask something like, "Did Jesus ever convey the message that He was divine?" To that question, the answer is a definite "Yes." In fact, the "Yes" is too clear, because the claim to divine sonship (which the Jews understood as a claim to divinity) was one reason why the Jewish leadership condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and demanded His execution. Let's look at some of Christ's related claims:

1. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (Joh 3:16 NKJ). Jesus claimed to be God's "only begotten Son"; but, that is not all, He states that God gave this only begotten Son so that whoever believes in the Son should not perish but have everlasting life. Now, some may object that this claim was a later theological construct; not a claim by Jesus but an interpolation by the apostles. This interpolation-theory, however, is because of the prejudiced made-up mindset that Jesus was not God. It is not based on proof but on prejudice.

2. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you." And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mar 2:5-7 NKJ). Evidently, here Jesus is doing something that the Jews were aware that only God can do. Not even a prophet or a priest could forgive a sin committed against others and against God. I can only forgive sins of those who sinned against me; but, I cannot forgive sins of those who have sinned against the Law of God; because if I do that I try to take the place of God. Jesus, obviously, knew this. But, He didn't stop just at that. He affirmed His authority to forgive sins by an act of divine power.

"When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you." And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mar 2:5-7 NKJ)

3. Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Mat 19:16-17 NKJ) In this statement, Jesus not only conveys the message that no human can claim to be good or try to have eternal life by virtue of good works (for none is good), but He also forces the young rich man to reconsider his calling Jesus as the Good Teacher; for if he really believed Jesus was Good, it meant that he equated Him with God. Jesus foils the human quest for autonomy and desire to independently, by virtue of personal merit, inherit eternal life -- no one can be good apart from God. This He proves by asking the young man to sell all his possessions, distribute them to the poor, so that He will have treasures in heaven, and to follow Him,. But, the young man was not willing to part with his riches since he wished to have a life independent of God--that was impossible; it is not possible to be independent of God and have eternal life--for that would mean sin co-existing with life, which is contradictory to divine Justice:

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever "-- therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. (Gen 3:22-23 NKJ)

But, by answering the question of the rich young man, Jesus has affirmed that He could authoritatively show how one could have eternal life; authoritatively, because He had eternal life. It meant both that He was Good (which no man but God was) and that He knew how one could have eternal life. He tells him to do something beyond the Old Testament command, He asks him to sell all he has, distribute it to the poor (so that he will have treasure in heaven), and to follow Him (Matt.19:21). Obviously, by asking the young man to follow Him in relation to eternal life, He is making a claim that no human can make (for "no one is good but One, that is, God.")

4."I and My Father are one."
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him.
Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?"
The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God."
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law,`I said, "You are gods"'?
"If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken),
"do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world,`You are blaspheming,' because I said,`I am the Son of God '?
"If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me;
"but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him."
Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand. (Joh 10:30-39 NKJ)


There are a number of clauses here that convey Christ's claim to divinity: (a) He calls Himself one with the Father (b) They understand His claim as blasphemous because, as they say, "You, being a Man, make Yourself God."). (c) Jesus replies by quoting Psalm 82:6, where God calls humans as "gods"; so if He called them gods, to whom the word of God came, then why should they consider it blasphemous if the one whom "the Father sanctified and sent into the world" said not "I am God" but "I am the Son of God". Obviously, Jesus was evoking their understanding of His statements as conveying the idea of His affirmation of His divinity. They obviously knew that there was a difference between God saying "You are gods" in Psalm 82:6 and Jesus saying "I and My Father are one." The statement of Jesus clearly meant that He was claiming to be God. Secondly, He refers to Himself as the one "whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world". In other words, He was claiming pre-existence (His birth of the world was not the beginning of His life but the event of His being sent into the world). It also implies His greatness above every other human; for if those to whom the word of God came could be called "gods", then what is wrong the One who was sanctified and sent into the world calling Himself "the Son of God"? (d) Jesus also says that "the Father is in Me, and I in Him", which again provokes them to try to seize Him.

5.Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (Joh 8:57-59 NKJ) The message here is too clear to miss. Jesus claims in the present tense "I AM" to exist before Abraham (i.e. before Abraham was born). In other words, His existence predates the Father of the Jewish race, Abraham. Thus, though He was the son of Abraham, according to the flesh, His existence is (not was) before Abraham. The I AM (the Name of God as revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14) also affirms that His existence is trans-temporal, that is infinite and eternal. As such, He is not a creature but the Creator. No surprise, the Jews were infuriated again by this claim and wanted to stone Jesus. For them, no existing human could claim to be greater than Abraham, their father.

Several Scriptural proofs exist for the divinity of Christ. Following are some verses that corroborate the divinity of His Person:

1. Preincarnate
Pre-existence (Jn. 1:1; 1Jo. 1:1; Jn. 17:5).
Participation in creation (Gen. 1:26; Prov. 8:30; Col. 1:15; Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; 1Co. 8:6).
Christophanies (Gen.18,19; Hos.1:7; Gen.22,31; Exo. 3:2; Exo. 14:19; Num. 22:22; Judg.6).
2. Divine Nature
Divine Attributes (eternal- Jn. 1:1; Jn. 8:58; Jn. 17:5; omnipresent- Mt. 28:20; Eph. 1:23; omniscient- Jn.16:30;21:17; omnipotent- Jn.5:19; immutable- Heb. 1:12; Heb. 13:8)
Divine Offices (Creator- Joh 1:3; Col 1:16; Sustainer- Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3)
Divine Prerogatives (forgives sin – Mt. 9:2; Luk. 7:47; raises dead- Jn. 5:25; Jn. 11:25; executes judgement- Jn. 5:22)
Identified with OT YHWH - I AM (Jn. 8:58; Jn. 12:41; Jn. 8:24; Jn. 8:50-58)
Divine Names (Alpha & Omega-Rev. 22:13; I AM –Jn. 8:58; Immanuel- Mt. 1:22; Lord-Mt. 7:21; Son of God- Jn. 10:36; God- Jn. 1:1; 2Pe. 1:1; Tit. 2:13; 1Jo. 5:20)
Divine Relations (Image of God- Col. 1:15; Hb.1:3; One with Father- Jn. 10:30)
Accepts Divine Worship (Mt. 14:33; Mt. 28:9; Jn. 20:28-29). Claims to be God (Jn.8:58; Jn. 10:30; Jn. 17:5 – in such case, He is either liar, lunatic, or the Lord that He claims to be, but never can be regarded as merely a good moral teacher)

Any quick perusal of the Gospels will clearly demonstrate to the unbiased mind that Jesus did claim again and again to be divine.

December 25, 2014

Joy To The World The Lord Has Come!


The term "Christmas" is a compound of two words "Christ" and "Mass" (the celebration of Eucharist by the Catholic Church). Etymologically, the term refers to the celebration of mass on the anniversary of Christ's birth. Protestants usually refrain from looking at the Eucharist as another sacrifice and at the Bread and Wine as literally turning into Christ's body and blood. Therefore, they never use the word "mass" to refer to the Lord's Supper in their services. However, when they use the term "Christmas", this etymological meaning is not considered (usually unknown). But, the etymological connection of the Eucharist (which literally means "Thanksgiving", from the act of Christ giving thanks for the Bread and Wine) with the Birth of Christ can have a deeper significance--that His birth cannot be seen apart from His death, that He was born the first time in order to die as our Sacrifice. In fact, He couldn't have become our Sacrifice unless He had been made flesh in His body of sacrifice.

Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. (Heb 10:5 NKJ)

  • He came as God's Sacrifice for our Sins (Heb. 10:5-6)
  • His First Coming Establishes His Second Coming (In the OT Prophecy, Christ's coming was seen as a single event since they didn't see the Age of Grace in between the two peaks of His First and Second Coming. His First Coming tells us to look forward to His Second Coming). (Isa.61:1-3)
  • He came to take away the Old in order to bring in the New. He makes all things new. (Heb.10:9)
  • His First Coming as the Lamb of Sacrifice purges and sanctifies forever those who trust in Him. (Heb.10:10)

December 22, 2014

The Exclusivity of God - A Dialogue

“God is everywhere, God is in everything; therefore, everything is sacred, everything is God.”

“Is God also in dung?”

“No!”

“Why?”

“Because dung is unclean.”

“But, then you said that God is in everything.”

“But, how can God be in what is unclean?”

“Why not?”

“Because God is holy. Don’t we keep our holy places clean?”

“Then, it means that there are certain things God is not present in.”

“Yes.”

“It means that God is not in everything, or everywhere.”

“Yes.”

“It also means that everything is not God.”

“Yes.”

“What about man? Can we say that the human spirit is God, especially when it is evident that there are also evil men as well as good men?”

“In that sense, we cannot say that the human spirit that is prone to evil is divine. But, what if we say that the human spirit which is divine has fallen into disillusion and has missed to be what it was meant to be?”

“But, is that possible with God?”

“Why not?”

“Because God is perfect, and if God were not perfect then He would not be God, but be slave to circumstances and disillusioning powers greater than Him.”

“Yes. Then, it is not possible for God to err.”

“Which means that the human spirit cannot be divine.”

“Yes.”

“It also means that if human spirits in general cannot be divine, no human spirit can claim to be divine in particular.”

“But, don’t we see that great souls exist? Those who have enormous powers and have deep spiritual knowledge.”

“Yet, all these ones are subject to experiences of suffering, aging, and death like any other humans.”

“Yes.”

“And, there is a difference between having stronger power and being all-powerful, between having deeper understanding and being all-knowing.”

“Yes.”

“So, these are neither omnipotent nor omniscient.”

“Yes.”

“Which means they are not divine.”

“Seems so. Though they do claim to be divine and encourage their worship.”

“Either they are divine or their claims are false.”

“Yes, either.”

“So, if they are not divine, their claims are false.”

“Yes.”

December 16, 2014

Death the Formidable Policeman

Death is a formidable policeman,
Whose grip no mortal can evade;
Whose grip has ripped apart the strongest
In the midst of their prideful parade.

Men who had steel-like bodies
Died earlier than their own comrades;
Death cares not for young or old,
On each, equally, its shadow pervades.

When Death brings God's summons
To take one to the Final Court;
Then it leaves one no options
But to submit and to report.

Then Death snatches a man from himself
And rushes him to God's Throne on high,
Where Justice is fair and Equity is precise;
Where the Justified live and the condemned die.

© Domenic Marbaniang, Dec 16, 2014.

December 15, 2014

Drivers of Theologies


Systematic theologies usually begin either with Theology Proper (the Doctrine of God) or Bibliology (the Doctrine of Revelation). The Classical method (chiefly of the rationalists) was to begin with the doctrine of God, first by establishing the existence of God through some rational argumentation. On the other hand, the Fideist method held that theology didn’t need to begin with reason at all; theology began from the Bible, God’s self-revelation to humanity. So, they usually began with establishing first the doctrine of divine revelation, i.e. with Bibliology.

But, the inescapable problem again emerges: to try to establish the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible based on its own self-testimony would mean engaging in the informal question-begging fallacy: “I believe that the Bible is true because it is God’s Word, and what it says about itself as being God’s Word is true.” A question-begging fallacy doesn’t establish anything; it is like a man who tries to get higher by climbing over his own parachute. The external-evidence issue seems crucial at such moments. However, people like Plantinga have argued that this needn’t be the case. Internal evidences and testimonies equally count as valid, especially when they qualify as basic beliefs. Blaise Pascal had gone further to state that rationalism itself was founded upon a faith on reason; or else, what credibility does reason possess than itself in order to avoid the circular argument? Thus, the reductionism of sources to themselves seems unavoidable.

Thus, the disagreement is more about being rational than about being dogmatic. In his Escape from Reason, Schaeffer tried to historically demonstrate that the focus on the superiority of reason could hijack theology and cut it off from true faith. The sequential departure of systematic theologies from Faith in the West, especially following the Enlightenment was quoted as illustrative of the lower storey eating up of the upper storey (natural theology eating up revelatory theology). This progress of estrangement was arrested by the anti-liberal neo-orthodox movement theologically super-headed by Barth and his group of theologians. The neo-orthodox theologians tried to snatch away theology from the hands of the liberals by re-affirming sola fide (faith alone) over both reason and historical experience.

On the other hand, historical evidentialism was another frame of reference that challenged both faith and reason to accommodate to it; thus, we find the emergence of responses like Bultmann’s demythologizationism and Chalmer’s gap theory. People like Whitehead attempted to take the rationalist line and wed reason to history; others like Pannenberg wove revelation into history. In recent times, narrative theologians have decided to do away with the rational dimension of theology altogether; another example of the rational-empirical conflict. But, certainly the solution to the conflict doesn’t lie in opting for one over the other. Zeno’s paradoxes are not solved by choosing empirical phenomena above rational analysis , or vice versa.

The nature of a theological enterprise usually determines the method of doing theology. For instance, an apologetic kind of theology would seek to construct theology in a way that Faith is heavily guarded and defended. However, the irony is that apologetic theology is not primary theology at all. It comes after Faith has been meticulously adumbrated by a previous theological enterprise. Dogmatic theology, on the other hand, proceeds from sole belief in the Scriptures and uses the exegetical method, though at times the pendulum swings to extremities in order to combat the prevalent concepts of theology that the dogmatist considers to be false; in this light, we can understand Calvin’s opposition of anything that the Catholic can use to accentuate the primacy of the Pope, including the doctrine of the continuity of the charismatic gifts (Calvin said that the healing gift didn’t continue; the papacy was only misleading the masses by claiming that the gift continued). Utilitarian theologies only try to use theological categories for the proclamation of philosophically constructed ideas. Such utilitarian theologies don’t derive theology from the Scriptures but read the Scriptures in light of secular philosophy (See Thieselton, Two Horizons). But, real theology is not eisogetic (reading into the text) but exogetic (reading out of the text). Systematic theologies have to choose between epistemic assumptions: whether to begin from reason, from experience, or from faith. To people like Aquinas, the rational becomes important and reasoning is the method; to those like Sadhu Sundar Singh, the empirical is prior and narrative is the method; to those like Calvin, faith is prior and exegesis is the method.

Yet, one cannot even regard the dogmatic to be foolproof. The dogmatist vision is also colored by certain prejudices that s/he uses to resolve conflict of statements in the Bible. For instance, in the Calvinist doctrine, the foundation is the doctrine of Sovereignty of God and of His grace. Thus, wherever scriptural statements are in conflict, the arbitrator is the dogmatic basic; but, where the conflict is with science, reason, or history, the dogmatist chooses dogma over science. But, what is the basis of this dogma? It is not always right to also go by the popularity appeal (for instance, that if there are more texts to support a particular doctrine, then the conflict of passages is resolved by majority consensus—this is fallacious, seeing that one evidence is enough to falsify a theory). Also, dogmatism might become the rationale for blind faith—people of conflicting faiths may have no common platform to discuss their claims. However, the neo-orthodox theologians have argued that dogmatism is not blind when it comes to the Scriptures, because Scriptures are self-authenticating to the one who encounters God in the Word. But, again, that only allows full room for other conflicting claims to assert themselves as subjectively self-authenticating. The empiricists, however, anticipate conflicts, not just among faiths but also in Scripture; to them the idea of uniformity of revelation is not axiomatic; thus, theological conflict and dialecticism is anticipated—absolute dogma is impossible. But, if absolute truth doesn’t exist with regard to doctrine, then pluralism will become inevitable, in face of which theology becomes non-sensical; therefore, the modern quest for the narrative.

Obviously, attempting to emphasize any one of the three sources of knowledge (reason, experience, or revelation) over the others makes theological construction off-balanced. Divine revelation comes in empirical language and submits to the laws of reason. A verbal testimony that doesn’t submit to the rules of logic becomes linguistically meaningless and, as such will not qualify as revelation at all. Therefore, our construction of theology must carefully use both the eyes of reason and experience in order to see the revelation of God.

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