Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, many believe that Jesus did not say he was the Son of God or God himself. It's often claimed that this doctrine was instead decided by the church at a much later date. This claim was encouraged by film and novel, the "Da Vinci Code," even though it is a work of fiction!
You're likely to hear these ideas from some liberal or non-Christian scholars, as well as apologists from other religions. But it should be easy to refute these arguments.
It is true that the exact nature of the Trinity – the way in which one God exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - was debated in the early church. Its precise theological definition took time to develop.
However, it is clear from the Biblical evidence that Jesus considered himself both the unique Son of God and divine – as did the early church. Let's take a look at a summary of just some of the evidence – there's a lot more! But here's some of the clearest and most explicit examples:
Jesus saying he is the Son of God was the reason he was condemned by the religious leaders
- When Jesus was before the council of religious leaders (Mark 14:61-65), Jesus was asked a direct question – are you the Son of God? Jesus replies 'I am'. As well as clearly responding 'yes' to the question - the "I am" itself is a divine term. (NB – it is sometimes claimed that this is different from Matthew and Luke's version of this story, where Jesus says 'You say I am' rather than 'I am'. However the meaning was the same as Mark - as demonstrated by the same strong reactions from the religious leaders mentioned in 3.)
- Mark 14 further makes it clear that Jesus considered himself to be God incarnate, because he then quotes from Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:14. The Psalm is Messianic and refers to 'Lord'; the passage from Daniel clearly states the person "like a son of man" is divine, who rules and has power forever.
- The religious leader's reaction – tearing his robes and calling Jesus's words blasphemy – makes it clear that Jesus gave the world-shattering claim that he was the Son of God. This is why they wanted Jesus crucified! Read the chapter again - there was no evidence against Jesus other than him stating that he is the Son of God and God himself.
Jesus's words are clear: "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (NLT)
Apart from referring to himself as God's Son, the word that was once translated "only begotten" makes it clear that Jesus means he is the unique son of God – not one of many "sons of God," as is sometimes claimed.
In this key passage, Jesus makes two key statements about himself: "The Father and I are one," and "why do you call it blasphemy when I say, 'I am the Son of God'?" The crowd, who want to kill him, understand clearly what Jesus means: "We're stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God." (NLT)
"The Son of Man is Lord"
It's sometimes claimed that the phrase the "Son of Man," which Jesus often uses to describe himself, is not a divine term. In Matthew 12:8 Jesus is clear: "For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath."
The parable of the wicked tenants
In this parable, Jesus tells of farmers renting a vineyard who refuse to pay the landlord's agents, until the landlord decides to send his son (Matthew 21:37, Mark 12:6, Luke 20:13). The reference to the son is Jesus, the landlord is Father God and the tenants are those who rebel against God.
The way Jesus allows others to treat him
It's often recognised that Jesus responded graciously to those who treated him badly, most obviously in his kindness and forgiveness during his torture and execution. But the way in which he allows people to revere him as God is just as notable:
Jesus allows people to worship him: e.g. Matthew 14:33, John 9:38.
Jesus allows others to call him Lord and God, e.g. John 20:28.
As well as Jesus's own words, there are examples of where people heard Father God speak directly of Jesus as his Son:
The disciples hear Father God refer to Jesus as his "beloved Son" at Jesus's baptism, and the transfiguration
For example, Matthew 17:5: "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him." (NLT)
The angel tells Mary that Jesus is the Son of God
It's an important part of the story – see Luke 1:32 and verse 35. As Mary is a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit, it's also clear that Jesus's father has to be God himself, in a unique way.
Evidence from the early church
So far, we've looked at what the four Gospels say about this subject – and some people are most interested in this, as they believe that the other parts of the New Testament aren't as valid or important – though this can also be contested!
But it's clear from the very earliest days of the church that this is what they believed, too.
For example, the early words of the very first disciples, for example: John 20:31, Romans 1:4, Hebrews 1:2-3, 1 Corinthians 15.28, and 1 Thessalonians 1:10. These latter two books of the New Testament are believed to be the earliest that were written – between the years 51AD and 57AD.
As well as the written work of the earliest Christians, there are independent historical sources. For example, Pliny, who was trying to outlaw Christianity, wrote this of the first believers: "They asserted that this was the sum and substance of their fault or their error; namely that they were in the habit of meeting before dawn on a stated day and singing alternately a hymn to Christ as to a god."
Jesus's Sonship makes him unique – and it means his words cannot be ignored. He is a lot more than a wise teacher, a loving healer, and a prophet – though he is all of those things too. He is unique and our perfect representation of God himself on Earth, who absorbed all our wrongdoing on the Cross and rose victorious over death and sin – though he was just a humble carpenter, without even a home where he could lay his head.
His love and goodness can help us to overcome all the darkness in this world, in humility and peace, as he taught us.