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Respond to the Attacks on the Deity of Christ
Last month, I, Edward Dalcour, president/apologist of DCD, formally debated Muslim apologist Sadig Abdul Malyk, which was held at Foothill Bible Christian Church in Upland, CA.
The thesis of the debate was the deity of Jesus Christ. Being familiar with the method to which Muslim apologists defend Islamic teachings, in my opening statements I described how Mr. Malyk would handle the biblical affirmations and evidence regarding the deity of Christ. I stated that I did not expect Mr. Malyk to 1) exegetically interact with any of the passages submitted for his examination, 2) adequately respond to the unambiguous claims of deity made by Christ Himself (esp. John 5:17ff.; John 10:30; the “Alpha and Omega” claims; and the absolute “I Am” [egō eimi] declarations found in John 8:24, 28; 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and v. 8), and 3) I did not expect Mr. Malyk to respond to the heated reaction of the Jews when Jesus made these claims: They wanted to kill Him for blasphemy!
I also stated in my opening that due to Mr. Malyk’s denial of the deity of Christ as a Muslim, I did expect him to 1) appeal to liberal scholars such as Bart Ehrman who not only denies the reliability of the NT and thus denies divine revelation all together, but calls himself a “happy agnostic.” Ehrman, as I pointed out, would certainly see the Koran as a ridiculous piece of work, 2) deny all the passages that affirm the deity of Christ asserting that the passages in the Gospels that allegedly assert the deity of Christ and/or Jesus’ claims of deity, were either not the original work of the biblical authors (esp. John) or an incorrect interpretation. And further assert that the Apostle Paul cannot be trusted. Paul, as Muslims claim, did not accurately represent the teachings of Christ, and 3) ignore and/or evade specific passages that present the deity of Christ. In the end, as I predicted, Mr. Malyk did exactly that!
The arguments of unitarians (i.e., groups that assert a unipersonal God—namely, God as one Person) are basically the same. Assuming that “one God” means “one Person” causes unitarian groups such as the Muslims, JWs, Oneness Pentecostals, etc., to reject the idea that the Son, Jesus Christ is also God. In their mindset, that idea violates monotheism. But as biblically stated, the very foundation of the Trinity is monotheism: 1 eternal God revealed in 3 co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent, distinct Persons (not 3 Gods). For it must be pointed out here: there is a distinction between “being” and “person.” “Being” is what something is, “person” is who something is. Thus, maintaining a continued awareness of this distinction is greatly efficacious in accurately communicating the doctrine of the Trinity—one Being revealed in three Persons.
Passages Muslims & JWs use to Deny that Jesus is God
The passages used by Mr. Malyk in the debate and by most JWs to deny the deity of Christ are as follows: Mark 13:32 (where seemingly the Son is ignorant of His return); John 14:28 (where Jesus says that the Father is “greater” than the Son); Matthew 16:28 (where Muslims make the absurd claim that Jesus made a false prophecy); and Matthew 27:46 and John 20:17 (where Jesus addresses the Father as His God).
Before dealing with these passages, it must be remembered that the deity of Christ is exegetically presented in virtually every NT book (e.g., Matt. 12:6; John 1:1-3, 18; 8:24, 58;10:30; Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 2:8; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:16-17; 2:9; Titus 2:13). So, to put implicit biblical passages against explicit passages reveals a serious flaw in one’s hermeneutic. Furthermore, these passages that Muslims and JWs use to deny the deity of Christ actually prove the converse—they affirm the deity of Christ!
Mark 13:32: “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
If one is going to use Mark 13:32 to argue that the ignorance of the Son- shows that the Son cannot be God; to stay consistent one must use the entirety of chapter 13 and not omit verse 32 from its context. In short, the entire context of the chapter is future events from the time of which the author is writing. However, in spite of the various eschatological views proposed these days, it seems that in verse 32 (in light of Matt. 24:36), Jesus is speaking of His final Eschaton (return). Note first, verse 27, where we read that the Son “will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.” Here the Son is said to “send forth the angels” and they will gather His elect. Does Mohammad (or Michael the archangel, as JWs believe Jesus to be) have angels that obey him? Does Mohammad have an elect? For only Yahweh has an elect class (cf. Rom. 8:33; 1 Pet. 1:1). So thus far, the full deity of the Son is clearly presented in chapter 13. So whatever Jesus actually meant in verse 32, it cannot be in objection to verse 27.
Now, let’s deal with verse 32. First, Philippians 2:7 says Christ emptied (kenoō) Himself. But how did He empty Himself? By taking the NATURE (morphē) of a slave, being made in the likeness of men. . . .” Then in verse 8, we read that the Son humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! Thus, Jesus Christ voluntarily veiled some of His divine prerogatives, without divesting any deity. So any knowledge that the Son did not apparently have, must be seen within the context of His incarnation, thus, His emptying and humbling—He was not only God, He was God-man. Muslims and JWs confuse and deny all aspects of His incarnation and merely go to passages which denote His humanity. If the incarnation and humiliation of Christ is misrepresented and/or distorted, then, one will be hopelessly confused, and keep asking questions, such as, “If Jesus was God, why didn’t He know the day or hour of His return?, “How can He die?” “Why didn’t He know who touched Him”; and on and on it goes.
Secondly, and a key point, notice the ascending ontological (in nature) order in verse 32: “But of that day or hour”:
1) “No one knows.” Thus, no “man” knows. Thus, the first category of being is man.
2) “Not even the angels in heaven.” The next category is angels, which is a higher category of being than that of man.
3) “Nor the Son, but the Father alone.” What being is higher than angels? God. So, the ascending order: man> angels> Son shows that the Son, as God, is in a higher category than that of man and angels—hence clearly affirming the deity of the Son.
John 14:28: “The Father is greater than I.”
Just as Mark 13 actually proves the deity of Christ, John 14 likewise proves the same. First in verse 6, Jesus says that He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life and no one can come to the Father except through Him. Neither Mohammad nor Michael the archangel, nor any mere man or angel can make such a claim. Then in verse 14, Jesus says that “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Prayer is to God alone, but the Son instructs His disciples to pray to Him. And in verse 23, Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” What does this passage reveal about the Son? It indicates that Jesus is omnipresent as the Father is. Jesus claims that He and His Father will be with believers everywhere: “We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”
Up to now, Jesus reveals that He possesses the very attributes of God affirming once again His absolute deity: He is the only Way, the only Truth, the only Life, and hence, the only means of coming to the Father; He instructs His followers to pray to Him; and He claims to be omnipresent. Therefore, when we come to verse 28, we must take the preceding passages into consideration theologically and not wrench them out of the chapter. So what then does Jesus mean? First, it must be realized that the term translated “greatest” is meizōn (from megas), which denotes position or function—not nature (cf. BDAG). In fact, no standard lexicon offers a meaning of qualitative or ontological superiority for the term megas. If the Son wished to communicate that the Father was ontologically superior (better) than He was, He certainly could have used the term kreittōn, “better/stronger” to accomplish this. This term can indeed denote ontological superiority (e.g., Heb. 1:4: the Son is “much better [kreittōn] than the angels”). The same word is used in verse 12: “He who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater [megas] works than these. . . .” What are these greater works? Contextually, they can only refer to greater in quantity (geography), not greater in quality (cf. Matt. 28:19).
Matthew 16:27-28: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
All the apostles died and Jesus has not yet come. So is this a false prophecy? This assertion of Jesus making a false prophecy rests upon the assumption that the phrase, “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” speaks of His final return. Simply, the first word in verse 1 of chapter 17 is the conjunction: kai, “and.” (“and six days later . . .”). Hence, 16:28 and 17:1 are connected: the “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” is connected with the Transfiguration, which was witnessed by Peter, James, and John who were the “some of those” that “would not taste death.” This coming was not the final return, but rather a precursor to Jesus’ final Eschaton.
Finally, in Matthew 27:46 and John 20:17, Jesus calls His Father “God.” Thus, it is argued, “If Jesus is God, how can He address someone else as His God? The simple answer: Jesus is not only God, but God-man. He has two natures. As to His humanity He can grow in wisdom, feel pain, die on the cross, etc., but as to His deity He can claim that He is the “I Am” of the OT (John 8:58; cf. Deut. 32:39; Isa. 43:10 LXX); He can still the waters (Matt. 8:23-27); command the Father to glorify Him with the glory that only Yahweh possesses (Isa. 48:11; John 17:5); be the Creator of all things (John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17); claim that He is greater than the temple and “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:6, 8). Further, in John 20:17, Jesus carefully distinguishes His relationship with God the Father and the relationship of God the Father with others: “My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.” Jesus is the Son of God by nature; whereas believers are sons and daughters of God, by adoption.
Therefore, many of the arguments railed against the deity of Christ by Muslims and other anti-Trinitarian groups, actually affirm the deity of Christ. Aside from that, it is no wonder as to why Muslims deny the authenticity of the Gospel of John and the Epistles of Paul—they present in the strongest and clearest way that the Son, Jesus Christ, was God (e.g., John 1:1; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; see also Heb. 1:3, 8), Creator (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17), and He was worshipped in a religious context (cf. Matt. 14:33; John 9:35-38; see also Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:13-14).
 In the OT, as well, there are numerous places that teach the deity of the Son (e.g., Gen. 19:24; Ps. 102:25-27 [cf. Heb. 1:10-12]; Prov. 30:4; Isa. 6:1-10 [cf. John 12:41]; 9:6; Dan. 7:9-14; Joel 2:32 [cf. Rom. 10:13]; etc.).
 In verse 6, Paul indicates that the Son was en morphē theou huparchōn, lit., “in nature God subsisting.”