True Christianity has its object the Person of Jesus Christ. His identity is vitally crucial for it speaks of His unparalleled influence. His dominance in the history and philosophy of Western culture is incontrovertible. And this is the reason why He is the number one target for sceptics who wish to discredit the Christian worldview.
Two aspects of Jesus identity that have come under steady, sharp and sustained attack are his historicity and his deity.
When one claims that Jesus is not a historical figure, then Christianity is on trial. When one questions the deity of Jesus then Christianity is on the test.
Of the two, the deity of Jesus is attacked both by atheists and some Christian cults. When Christ is stripped of His deity, then what we remain with is not the Trinity – one of the central Christian doctrines. In this, we observe that attacking the deity of Christ is tantamount to attacking the Trinity. Most of the time, the sceptic appeals to history and declares that the doctrine of the Trinity has its roots in paganism. Assyrians, Babylonians and even Hindus indeed had three gods in their serving. But these three gods ruled over a pantheon of other gods. This is absolutely unlike the Christian doctrine of the Trinity that teaches that there is one and only one God, who eternally exists in three Persons. Furthermore, all these same cultures and numerous others have an account of a world-wide flood comparable to the account of Noah in Genesis. In Babylon, it was called the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. Does this mean that we shouldn’t believe in the story of the great flood because it has similarities with the beliefs of other religions?
The early Christians all believed that Jesus was fully divine even if they didn’t use the word “trinity”. Church fathers like Athenagoras, Irenaeus and Tertullian taught the concept of the Trinity in the Second Century. The early debates in Christianity were not over the deity of Christ but His humanity. The first heretics, the Gnostics, denied that Jesus was truly human. The church didn’t have to deal with the deity of Christ in a council until the Fourth Century because up until then it was unanimously agreed upon. It was a settled matter that Christ was God. It wasn’t until the heretic Arius taught that Jesus was created that the church used a council – The First Council of Nicaea – to define what the orthodox doctrine was on this subject.
Appeal to logic
When it comes to logic, sceptics try it to their level best but fail miserably. One of the most tired arguments advanced by the critics of Jesus’ deity goes like this, “Jesus never said He was God.”
Sober scrutiny of this line of thinking exposes grave logical difficulties.
Number one: This argument is a strawman fallacy. Christians have never at any point said that Jesus explicitly declared He was God. Thus the critics are forming their argument, knocking it down, and declaring victory.
Number Two: It was not a must for Him to say, “I am God”. He never said, “I am the Prophet” but most religions still regard Him as the Prophet.
It is awkward to go around telling people, “You know I am a doctor…….you know I am a lawyer……you know I am a nurse…….you know I am a clergy…….you know I am a teacher……”. It sounds rather silly to do that. I bet you will have a problem trusting anyone who goes around parading their credentials to all and sundry, and you may conclude that they have gone off their rockers.
Jesus did not have to go around proclaiming He was God to an antagonistic Jewish society.
Number Three: That kind of argument has confirmation bias. This is whereby we pick a few verses in the Bible to bolster our argument and overlook others which appear to counter our argument. For example, we find Jesus using titles that were only reserved for YHWH. ‘I am the First and the Last’ Revelation 2:8; Isaiah 44:6. John 20:28-29. There are many other examples that time would not permit to cite.
Number Four: When we say, “Jesus never said He was God” we are making a criterion for judging if Jesus was God. Jesus Himself and the apostles wanted to communicate His deity but not the way we think. Why should we create a standard for judging if Jesus was God?
When we bring up an argument that has already been rebutted several times elsewhere, then no one will take you seriously. It is fallacious to revive dead arguments.
It will do well to adequately understand the interpretations rendered to specific portions of writings before we criticize lest we misrepresent things (strawman).