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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

29 August 2005

Jesus Christ: True God

I’m a confused Christian who needs help strengthening faith. I have tons of questions put together around the theme, “Why Jesus isn’t God.” Please take your time and answer these, to help me save my faith. Thank you and God bless.

Christ PantocratorI cannot help you save your faith. That is a task of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word. However, I hope that I can point you to a better understanding of that Word, while praying that the Spirit might accomplish the task. As it is, I fear for your salvation.

Q1. Jesus is not all-powerful: Mark tells us that He tried to heal a blind man and failed on the first attempt, then got it on the 2nd attempt. (8:22-26)

A1. Jesus didn’t fail. This healing merely came in two stages. Perhaps the man had two different afflictions and Christ healed each separately; perhaps He eased the man into the world of the sighted so the shock to his system wouldn’t be so great.

Q2. Jesus isn’t all-knowing: He himself doesn’t know when the last day will occur, but the Father alone knows that (Matthew 24:36).

A2. Two possible good explanations exist. First, from His incarnation through His death and burial, Jesus didn’t always or fully utilize His divine powers. A second is that this is part of the mystery of the Trinity (upon which some of your other questions also touch).

Q3. Luke says that Jesus increased in knowledge (2:52); isn’t God supposed to always know everything?

A3. Again, we are seeing Jesus in his State of Humiliation, as He intentionally limited His divine power, including knowledge. This passage is strong testimony showing His true human nature.

Q4. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18)” Jesus made a clear distinction between Himself and God, meaning He cannot be God.

A4. Does Jesus say He isn’t good? I don’t see this as a denial. Rather, I think it’s part of His challenge to the rich young man — a challenge the man failed miserably.

Q5. Paul said God is immortal, anyone who believes Jesus died cannot believe Jesus is God.

A5. God is immortal, which is why Jesus our Savior also had to be true man. God required a perfect Savior, a perfect sacrifice, so the Redeemer needed to be truly God. However, God also requires death as punishment and payment for sin. The Son took on human flesh, becoming also fully man, so He would be capable of suffering pain and death on our behalf.

Q6. Jesus was not co-equal with the Father: “The Father is greater than I. (John 14:28)”

A6. This goes to the heart of the Trinitarian mystery of one God yet also three Persons. The Trinity is not a democracy; even in the divine unity, the Father is the unquestioned Head

Q7. Jesus had no idea who came up behind him and touched his cloak (Mark 5:30); doesn’t God know everything?

A7. Again, I believe that one of two explanations is correct. Either Jesus speaks according to His purposeful self-limitation of knowledge in the State of Humiliation or else He did know and used the question to set the stage for the events which followed. Remember that in the Garden, God asked the man where he was, even though He knew exactly where Adam hid (Genesis 3:9).

Q8. Jesus had a God, for when He was about to ascend into heaven, he called to God (John 20:17).

A8. According to His human nature, Christ had the same God as did His disciples. Even according to His divinity, the Father is still God over Him and the Holy Spirit, even as He is over all Creation.

Q9. Jesus confirmed that the Father alone was the one true God (John 17:1-3).

A9. See my previous answer.

Q10. Jesus said to His enemies, “You seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. (John 8:40)” Clearly, Jesus cannot be God.

A10. Jesus was speaking to them as the man they assumed Him to be. However, He continued by saying, “This is not what Abraham did.” Then after accusing them of having Satan, not Abraham, as their father, He equated Himself with the One who spoke as the great I AM from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14) by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. (8:58)” Any Jew of Jesus’ time would automatically equate “I AM” with the true God. They (wrongly) assumed He blasphemed and “picked up stones to throw at him.... (8:59)”

Q11. Jesus and God are two separate entities: On the cross He asked God why He had been forsaken (Mt 27:46). Did God forsake Himself? Also, they are obviously two separate beings if He committed His spirit into God’s hands (Luke 23:46).

A11. As previously noted, the Christian Church believes, teaches, and confesses the Holy Trinity; that is, one God who is three Persons. So yes, God did forsake Himself, showing a depth of love and compassion for sinful humanity that we never deserved.

Q12. The New International Version says that ancient manuscripts omit “Son of God” in Mark 1:1. Do you notice that the title “Son of God” has been left out in the originals?

A12. No, it was left out of some of the existing ancient copies of the Gospel. This manuscript testimony is nowhere near a majority rendering of the text.

Q13. “God ... raised up his servant. (Acts 3:26)” Even the original followers of Jesus consider Him as only a servant.

A13. Hardly “only” a servant — I’ll answer this along with your final question.

Q14. “We know and believe that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:68-69)” The people believed he was just a holy one and not God Himself.

A14. First of all, the disciples were often confused, even after Jesus’ resurrection, as to who He truly was. Secondly, in this confession of faith, “Holy One” is not a title a devout Israelite would assign to a mere man.

Q15. Jesus said the Father is greater than all (John 14:28); how then can Jesus be equal with God?

A15. The Athanasian Creed [21k PDF] gives a bit of an answer, following the Biblical testimony when it states, “We worship one God in Three Persons and Three Persons in one God, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is One Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.” Later, the Creed also says He is “equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.” Even in the divine equality, the Father, as I previously noted, is the sole Head of the Trinity.

Q16. Jesus said that He and the Father are in fact two (John 8:14-18).

A16. Yes, because each is a distinct Person. Father, Son, or Holy Spirit are not mere masks which the one true God puts on in order to play certain rôles. Each is a separate, distinct Person; each is also truly and fully God.

Q17. Jesus depends on God for authority: “I can do nothing on my own. (John 5:30)” Also, “I do as the Father has commanded me. (John 14:31)” God has full authority and full knowledge; He cannot be taught but he teaches.

A17. Yet again, we cannot confuse the Persons of the Trinity. The Son is, was, and will be always “of the Father.” According to both His divine and human natures, He is always about His Father’s business (see Luke 2:49)” You show a pattern of attempting to impose human reason and human relationships upon the divine economy.

Q18. Jesus prayed to God, but God prays to no one though right? (Mark 14:32, e.g.)

A18. The Son prays to the Father. So does the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:26-27). The Father ultimately answers all prayers while all beings, including the other two Persons of the Trinity, are beholden to Him.

Q19. “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen.... (Matthew 12:18)” God called Jesus His servant.

A19. Jesus said to Pontius Pilate in John 18:37, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth.” As such, He was God’s chosen Servant, the One prophesied by Isaiah in the Servant Songs (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; and especially 52:13-53:12). When you read these passages, you realize that no mere man could totally fulfill the prophecies. As Jesus said of Himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)” He was the perfect Son and the perfect Servant, perfectly completing every task His Father gave Him. This very perfection testifies to His divine nature.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


Blogger dolphinfan said...

Great job! I enjoyed reading your answers, as well as the questions, and i couldn't agree more with you.

God Bless

29 August, 2005 16:43  
Blogger Kurt Wall said...

Pardon me, but these questions sound like the typical litany of challenges to Christianity coming from a Jew of Muslim, not someone earnestly seeking to save their faith. Or, God forgive me, perhaps I'm merely skeptical or cynical.

29 August, 2005 19:53  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

I wasn't sure, so I didn't challenge the questioner. I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't received at least some of these thoughts from a Jew or a Muslim, even if he isn't himself one of these.

At least the answers are true and if they don't help this one at this time, they're here for anyone else who's been so challenged.

29 August, 2005 22:06  
Anonymous vanman said...

On the "incomplete" healing of the blind man in Mk. 8:22-26 referenced above.
I have always understood that Jesus too thoroughly and completely granted this man the sight to see men truthfully. Men like trees walking about-spiritually dead, living and walking about aimlessly, purposelessly (Ro. 8). This man received too much sight (remember the 60's movie, "The Man With The X-Ray Eyes"?). Thus the "second healing was akin to Jesus saying, "Whoa, you can't bear this sight/knowledge" so He backed off and gave him only typical limited,human sight.

23 May, 2006 12:49  

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