As Christians, we all accept the New Testament books as authoritative and true. But your non-Christian professors and friends don’t. Well then, what evidence should you use in talking to them? If your professor and friends are up on just a little modern scholarship, they know that certain portions of Paul’s writings and portions of the four Gospels are accepted, not as inspired, but as historically reliable information.
Now, if your professors accept that, then let’s use that material, because it reveals the historical facts that Jesus lived, claimed to be God, died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and appeared to His disciples later. It’s historical evidence which can’t be ignored. Now, if you ask, “What are some of the passages that virtually all critical scholars—including your professors and your friends—should accept that tell us these things,” Dr. Habermas tells you in this article.
Why do you think the critical community says there’s virtually no value in the Gospels? I say, “critical community,” I mean the far left. There’s a moderate community out there with probably the most influential scholars who wouldn’t dispute half as many things as we’re hearing from the far left, the ones who claim to be mainstream.
Now, when you go back to the Gospels, do you hear the same message or don’t you? But before I get there, let me make a point: 1 Corinthians predates the Gospels. At least 1 Corinthians 15 is the longest extended treatment of the resurrection before the four Gospels. So really, the Gospels are coming along later. But here we’ve got the horse in the right place before the cart. If you’ve already found it in Paul, and if you have it later in Acts, why are you objecting to the books that we’ve already got it from the earliest sources in Paul?
Now, when you go to Jesus, here’s what you’ll find in the Gospels. The same proclamation. I mean, Paul is not dealing with amateurs here, and he’s not dealing with people who never knew Jesus. He talked to Peter; he talked to James himself. He comes back to Jerusalem, by the way, in the next chapter and the same two men are there—Peter and James—and John is there, John the apostle. So, Paul’s got connections.
When you get back to Jesus Himself and the Gospels, we read that Paul did not make up the deity of Christ. You see, these titles are mentioned in the early shortened creeds in Acts, but you see them in the Gospels, too. And I think our two best grounds for talking about the deity of Christ in the Gospels are Jesus’ self-designations: Son of Man and Son of God. Now, Son of God is more usually recognized to be a title of deity. Son of Man, what a lot of people don’t realize is this is not a title to be Mary’s son. Son of Man doesn’t mean “human being.” Son of Man, to make a lot of scholarship real short here, Jesus shows that He knows of the passage in Daniel 7:13-14 where Daniel looks up and he sees the Ancient of Days, one coming down who looks like a Son of Man. And in Jesus’ time this idea had evolved in some writings of some Jewish books of that time that have nothing to do with Scripture.
But his readers knew that Son of Man could be a mere human being; it can be a prophet like the book of Ezekiel; or it can be the Son of Man who comes down from the Ancient of Days, this prophetic figure who is a preexistent divine figure who sets up God’s kingdom. Which one does Jesus refer to Himself as? Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-designation in the Gospels. And at least twice—one of them is in Mark 14—He virtually quotes Daniel 7:13-14 and says, “that’s me.” At that point, when the Jewish priest says, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Notice what Jesus does. “Are you the Christ”—Messiah—“the Son of God”? And Jesus says, “Ego eimi,” “I am.” And then He changes a Son of God question to a Son of Man answer. He says, “I am the Christ, the Son of God, and you will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven in judgment.” And the priest makes a formal declaration of blasphemy. He rips his garment. He says, “Look, the rest of you witnesses can go home. We’ve got’cha.”
Now, what set him off? In the passage there in Mark 14, Jesus says, “Ego eimi, I am the Son of God.” Then He says, “And you will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.” Number one, it’s a virtual quote from Daniel 7:13-14. He claims to be the preexistent One who comes from the Ancient of Days to set up God’s kingdom. And secondly, He uses this enigmatic phrase, “coming with the clouds.” That phrase is used dozens of times in Scriptures as a reference to deity. And Jesus said, “That’s Me.” He’s already said, “Ego eimi” concerning the Son of Man. And the priest—it’s almost like he was waiting for this—he said, “Good. We’ve got Him. The rest of you go home.”
So, if Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God and Jesus is claiming to be the Son of Man, why do we think Paul is inventing the deity of Christ later? We see it in the Gospels; we see it in these little shortened gospel phrases in Acts; and we see it in 1 Corinthians 15. I think this is a solid case for the deity of Christ.
And don’t forget, if Christ is raised from the dead, now you’ve got to ask the question, “Is God saying something?” And traditional Christianity says, right in the New Testament, in fact, that God’s raising Jesus confirmed His message. And if Jesus claimed to be deity, nothing can be more blasphemous. So the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on Jesus. And that’s argued that way in Acts 2, Peter; it’s argued that way in Acts 17, Paul; it’s argued that way in Romans 1, Paul. The resurrection is the capstone. As Paul said, it truly is a matter of first importance.