Did Jesus Claim to Be God -- By: John A. Witmer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 125:498 (Apr 1968)
Article: Did Jesus Claim to Be God
Author: John A. Witmer


Did Jesus Claim to Be God

John A. Witmer

[John A. Witmer, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Librarian, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Some months ago the writer was talking with a Jewish educational leader. Although he would disclaim being an expert, this man is quite knowledgeable in historical and contemporary Jewish thought. In the conversation he was asked to present his concept of Jesus. His reply in essence painted Jesus as a wandering rabbi who was seeking to correct the religious abuses of His times. He felt that Jews today would honor Jesus along with Hillel and others as one of their great teachers if the followers of Jesus had not begun to worship Him as God. He was challenged on his view that the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ was a later development of the church and not the consciousness and claim of Jesus Himself. Of this he was quite firmly convinced. In fact he believed that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah and had no consciousness of being the Messiah. I was just as firmly convinced that Jesus did claim to be God and that the faith of His followers in His deity was the result, at least in part, of this claim. The resulting conflict of views raises the subject of this article, “Did Jesus Claim to Be God?”

This Jewish leader had jokingly said that whenever three Jewish scholars discuss a subject at least four views are expressed. On the subject of Jesus’ claim to deity, however, Jewish scholars show surprising unanimity. Klausner, for example, asserts: “That Jesus never regarded himself as God is most obvious from his reply when hailed as ‘Good master’: ‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, God.’…Nor did he regard himself as Son of God in the later Trinitarian sense.”1 Elsewhere Klausner summarizes his view and supports the developmental idea as follows: “Jesus’ own

teaching is poles apart from the Trinitarian dogma; but it contained the germ which, fostered by gentilic Christians, developed into the doctrine of the Trinity.”2 Klausner did not agree completely with my friend, however, for he says, “Jesus was convinced of his messiahship: of this there is no doubt.”3

It is understandable that Jewish scholars, who reject the doctrine of the Trinity and its concomitant doctrine of the deity of Jesus, would advance the view expressed by Klausner and the teacher I met. But essentially the same position is embraced by a large segment of contemporary liberal Protestantism and avant-garde Catholicism. This is surprising, especially sinc...

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