The Basic Argument for the Deity of Christ
There are as many different viewpoints about Jesus Christ as there are people. Some see Jesus as a great teacher. Some view Him as a moral leader. To some, Jesus is a revolutionary. To others, He is a great rabbi. To the Muslim world, Jesus is a prophet, even though, according to Islam, He is an inferior prophet to Mohammed. All of these viewpoints avoid the central question: Is Jesus Christ the Son of God? The question of Jesus’ deity is of the utmost importance. Either He is the Son of God, or He is not. When we use the phrase “Son of God,” we are not using it in the sense that every man is a son of God by virtue of creation. Rather, when we affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, we are declaring that Jesus Christ is in fact deity, the second person of the one triune Godhead, and that He shares that particular nature or quality only with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Is Jesus deity? We answer that question in the affirmative and propose to set out the basic argument for such. We insist that people have the right to examine the evidence thoroughly and that, having done so, will conclude that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Even though there have been many variations on the basic argument, we are using the one first set forth by Thomas B. Warren in The Spiritual Sword (April 1970). The basic argument will be set out in the form of a three-line syllogism. The argument form is modus ponens and is therefore valid. If the premises are true, then the argument is sound. If the premises are true, then it necessitates the truthfulness of the conclusion (cf. Ruby 272-74).
Warren’s basic argument for the deity of Christ is as follows:
1. If the particular characteristics of the person and work of Jesus Christ are such as to be beyond those of mere men, then Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
2. The particular characteristics of the person and work of Jesus Christ are such as to be beyond those of mere men.
3. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (1)
In the syllogism, the antecedent is affirmed, and therefore the consequent must follow. The question must be asked: Are the premises true?
The major premise is true because if the characteristics of Jesus Christ are supernatural, then He is the Son of God.
The minor premise is shown to be true by an examination of the life, work, and teachings of Christ. Succeeding articles in the 2013 publications of this journal demonstrate the truth of the minor premise. Some of Jesus’ characteristics are sufficient proof in and of themselves. Prophecy made and fulfilled is one such characteristic. There are over three hundred prophecies about Christ and His Kingdom in the Old Testament. No mere human being could fulfill all of these prophecies. Some of the prophecies (such as the virgin birth, Isaiah 7:14) demand a miraculous element. The prophecies are so detailed and so far removed in time that one must conclude that their fulfillment is not by coincidence or chance. Some of the predictions were: (1) the Messiah would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15), (2) the Messiah would come through Abraham (Genesis 22:18), (3) He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), (4) He would have a forerunner (Malachi 3:1), (5) His ministry would begin in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2), (6) He would be tender and compassionate (Isaiah 40:11; 42:3), (7) the Messiah would work miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6), (8) He would endure intense suffering (Psalm 22:14-15), (9) He would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9), (10) He would be smitten on the cheek (Micah 5:1), (11) Christ would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13), and (12) the Messiah would be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10). This is only a representative list of the prophecies made hundreds of years before the coming of Christ.
In regard to the remainder of the characteristics that make up the person and work of Christ, the following is a partial, but by no means complete, listing of Jesus’ attributes: Christ’s pre-existence; Jesus’ miraculous birth; the methodology of Jesus’ teaching; the content of Jesus’ teaching; the miraculous activity of Jesus; prophecy made and fulfilled in Christ; prophecies made by Christ; Christ’s vicarious death; the high priesthood of Christ; the resurrection of Jesus; the higher ethical teachings of Christ; the compassion of Christ; the justice of Christ; the authority and commission of Christ; the promises of Jesus; the sinless perfection of Christ; the influence of Christ on literature, music, art, and culture; the influence of Christ on history; the immeasurable love of Christ; the uniqueness of Jesus’ attitude toward women and children; Christ’s elevated view of marriage; Christ’s attitude toward government; and the Kingship of Christ.
We deal with some objections that might be made to this basic argument for the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some might object by saying that we are using the Bible itself in dealing with the deity of Jesus. Our response is: Of course we are. The first century writers were eyewitnesses to the life and teachings of Jesus. It makes no sense to study a sixth century or nineteenth century writer when we can examine the accounts of first century writers. Edward Wharton wrote:
God intended for belief in Christ to be generated by the New Testament whether or not it is accepted as God’s word. Christians should not therefore be intimidated to lay aside the Bible as authoritative simply because unbelievers deny its divine authorship. Its own historical authority is adequate to convince any honest investigator. (13)
Wharton also concluded:
It is impossible to reproduce the life and teachings of Christ from the total amount of information that comes down to us from first century Greek, Roman, and Jewish writers. From these writings outside the New Testament we can learn precious little about Jesus beyond the fact that he lived and was crucified at Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate. (13)
In order to examine the life, works, and teachings of Jesus, one must use the most reliable source available, and that is the Bible.
Another objection that might be made is this: any characteristic of God that a person may want to include for a candidate to be considered as the Son of God is a characteristic that we have already affirmed about Christ. This objection can be summarized as: “Whatever I say, you will say Christ already has that characteristic.” To this objection, we answer, absolutely yes. That is the very point we are affirming. Any characteristic, whether it be love, goodness, justice, or self sacrifice, is found in Christ. One cannot name any characteristic of God without finding the same quality used to describe Jesus somewhere in the Gospel accounts.
One other objection that could be raised is this: Christ never claimed to be God or the Son of God. Such an objection shows one’s ignorance of the Gospel record. All through the Gospels, Jesus continually uses the words “My Father.” On one occasion, the Jews said they wanted to stone Jesus “because you being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33). Part of Jesus’ response was: “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’?” (John 10:36). On another occasion, Jesus specifically referred to Himself when He asked the question: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” (John 9:35). The Jews of Jesus’ day understood the implications of His saying “My Father.” If that was not the case, then why did the Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 27:65)? While we agree that the precise declarative sentence “I am the Son of God” is not in Holy Scripture, the Jewish leaders, the Jewish people, and certainly His disciples understood Jesus’ claim to being the Messiah and the Son of God.
The basic nature of the question of the deity of Christ cannot be ignored. John R. W. Stott stated it this way: “This question is fundamental. We cannot dodge it. We must be honest. If Jesus was not God in human flesh, Christianity is exploded. We are left with just another religion with some beautiful ideas and noble ethics; its unique distinction has gone” (8).
The options are either accept Jesus as the Son of God or reject Him. C. S. Lewis, in his inimitable style, put it this way:
You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (56)
Robert Milligan wrote:
Christ, while he himself stands before us the greatest miracle that the universe has ever beheld, and, at the same time, the greatest blessing that God has ever bestowed on man. Without him what is life, and what is everything else besides? Take away his name and his influence from our race, and who can describe its wretchedness! But let him only be received into every heart, and then all is glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will among all men. (52-53)
This uniqueness of Jesus was summarized by Rubel Shelly:
In his very person, he stands as the greatest miracle of the ages. No mere mortal is Jesus – this man is the Son of God! No mind but an infinite one could have known what he knew. No heart but an infinite one could have loved as he loved. No benefactor but an infinite one could have given the free gift of eternal life that he offers. (207)
We accept Jesus as God’s one and only Son. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). There can be no doubt, He is Immanuel.
David O’Connell studied Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics under Thomas B. Warren at both the undergraduate and graduate level. He received the M.A. and M.Th. from Harding Graduate School of Religion and has been preaching for over forty years. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan, 1960.
Milligan, Robert. Reason and Revelation: or, The Province of Reason in Matters Pertaining to Divine Revelation Defined and Illustrated; and the Paramount Authority of The Holy Scriptures Vindicated. Cincinnati: Carroll, 1868.
Ruby, Lionel. Logic: An Introduction. Chicago: Lippincott, 1960.
Shelly, Rubel. A Defense of the Christian Faith. Nashville: 20th Century Christian, 1990.
Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.
Warren, Thomas B. “Jesus Christ – the Son of God.” The Spiritual Sword. April 1970:1.
Wharton, Edward C. The Case for Historic Christianity. Lubbock: Sunset Institute, 1996.