The Muslim Challenge

Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus Christ.

One of the overwhelming reasons given by all Muslims is that Jesus never said, “I am God.”

The Quran records in 79:24, “And he said: I am Your Lord, most high.”

Wait. Who’s saying this?

It was Pharoah speaking!

By the standards set by Muslims themselves, they must now admit that Pharoah is God because he said so! This is the abysmal standard of Islamic apologetics and polemics.

The rejection of the deity of Jesus Christ is common to all non-Christian cults and false religions.

Jesus said in John 8:24 that “unless you believe that I am [egō eimi], you will die in your sins.”

Salvation is predicated on that belief of WHO Jesus is. Not on religions or pillars or recitations or rituals. The fact of the matter is this: If Jesus is God, Islam is proven a false religion and thus, Mohammad is merely another false prophet who deceived his followers.

First, we must understand that in the New Testament, Jesus never said, “I am God” in those exact words.

But, Jesus’ claims to deity were much stronger and clearer than if He had just said, “I am God.”

The word “god” is subject to different meanings according to the context. In Hebrew, it is the word “Elohim” and in Greek it is the word “Theos.”

In the OT, the word Elohim (“God”/“gods”) is a title that did not only refer to the one true Almighty God (Jeremiah 10:10). But depending on the context, it also referred to judges (cf. Exodus. 21:6; 22:8-9), false gods (cf. Psalm 96:5), etc.

For example, in Exodus 7:1, the Lord said to Moses: “See, I make you as elohim to Pharaoh.” Of course, this does not mean that Moses became deity! It just means that, as God’s direct representative, Moses was “god” to Pharaoh. The point is, Moses, judges, angels, etc. were called “god(s), / elohim” even though they were not God by nature.

In the New Testament, the plural form of theos (or theoi, “gods”) denoted false gods (cf. John 10:34-35; 1 Corinthians 8:5). The word “theos” is also applied to satan, as the “god” of this evil world. (cf 2 Corinthians 4:4)

So if Jesus had merely stated, “I am god [theos],” those that deny the deity of Christ could construe the phrase to mean that Jesus was merely claiming that He was a representative of God, or a perfect judge, or a mighty angel (as claimed by the Jehovah Witness cult.)

However, Jesus’ claims to deity were much stronger and clearer than if He had said, “I am God.”

In other words, Jesus made specific claims to express His deity (some of which were used only of YHWH in the OT), which were clearly understood by both friends and enemies as claims to be equal with God. These specific claims were not used by nor were they applied to humans or angels, as with the term “god.”

Note the following claims, which explicitly demonstrate that Jesus did indeed claim to be equal with God, in the same sense as God the Father.

Egō Eimi (“I am”)

In John 8:24 Jesus declared: “For if you should not believe that I am [egō eimi] you will perish in your sins” (literal translation). Jesus claimed He was the “I am” seven times in the Gospel of John. (cf. John 8:28, 8:58; 13:19; 18:5, 18:6, and 18:8)

These instances are absolute “I AM” claims—i.e., with no supplied predicate. Hence, they are the not same as statements such as, for example, “I am the door” or “I am the shepherd.” These all have predicates following “I am” whereas the seven “I AM” statements listed above have no supplied predicate, but rather the “I AM” stands alone. Cleary this was an absolute and clear claim to deity.

The Hebrew phrase, Ani Hu, which was translated egō eimi (“I AM”) in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) was an exclusive and recurring title for YHWH (cf. Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4; etc.). Thus, this title, then, clearly denoted YHWH alone (which the Jews clearly understood, cf. John 8:59).

Further, Jesus’ claim to be the “I AM” was not only seen in John 8:58 (as many assume), but note the marked progression starting in 8:24, then, 8:28, 8:58; 13:19; 18:5, 18:6, and 18:8. It is when we take all the “I AM” statements do we see the thrust of His claim.

So strong was this affirmation of deity that the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult were forced to mistranslate their scripture – from the present active indicative verb, eimi (“am”) in John 8:58 it into a past tense, “I have been” (New World Translation), as if Jesus was merely claiming to be older than Abraham.

However, what immediately refutes this false notion is the response of the Jews in verse 59: They wanted to stone Him (legally, under Jewish law), which clearly shows that the Jews understood Jesus’ claim as an unequivocal claim to be God.

Jesus’ claim to be the “I AM” was essentially a claim to be YHWH, not a mere judge, angel, or representative of God, but YHWH. Hence, salvation is predicated on believing that the Son, Jesus Christ, is the eternal God, YHWH, the great “I am.”

The Son of God—in Essence

Muslims deny that Jesus’ claim to be the “Son of God” was in fact a claim of deity. Muslims are taught that Jesus was only speaking metaphorically when He referred to Himself as the Son of God (cf. John 10:36).

In other words, Muslims argue that Jesus was the Son of God because He was a servant, doing good works, glorifying God, being humble, etc., thus, Jesus was not the one and only (monogenēs) Son in a unique sense. They further point out that in both the OT and NT, “son(s) of God” was applied to both angels and men (cf. Gen. 6:2; Job 1:6; Luke 3:38). So, as Muslims argue, when Jesus claimed Himself to be God’s Son, it could not have been a title of deity.

Monogenēs means “one and only”/“unique one” (cf. John 1:14, 3:16) with no idea of “to beget,” “give birth,” or origin. Thus, monogenēs huios, means, “one and only Son” (NIV) or “unique Son” (cf. John 1:18: monogenēs theos, “God the One and Only”/“only begotten God”). The lexical meaning of the term is especially seen in Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is called one and only (monogenēs) son, yet Isaac was not Abraham’s first or only son, but he was the unique son from whom God’s “covenant would be established” (Gen. 17:19-21).

Muslims further point out that in both the OT and NT, “son(s) of God” was applied to both angels and men (cf. Gen. 6:2; Job 1:6; Luke 3:38). So, as Muslims argue, when Jesus claimed Himself to be God’s Son, it could not have been a title of deity.

In response,

1) The meaning of biblical words and phrases are determined by the context (as with the term Elohim). In a Semitic (Jewish) context, to be the “son of” something meant that one possesses or shares the nature of that something. In Ephesians 2:2-3, for example, the unsaved are said to be the “sons of disobedience . . . by nature children of wrath” in that they possess the nature of disobedience and wrath. Unbelievers are sons of the devil, (cf. John 8:44), whereas believers are sons of God by adoption (cf. Eph. 1:5), through faith (cf. Gal. 3:26).

2) Even though the phrase “son(s) of God” was applied to angels and men, when applied to Jesus, it was in a context of essence or nature. Whereas Christians are sons of God by adoption, Jesus is the Son of God by nature—which was a clear claim of deity.

The most substantial way that the “Son of God” is used is in a Trinitarian sense. Jesus Himself employs it that way in several places (cf. Matt. 11:27; 14:28-33; 16:16; 21:33-46; 26:63).

3) Son of God = God the Son (cf. John 1:18). In John 5:17-18, when Jesus said, “My Father is working until now,” note the response of the Jews (similar to John 8:59): [they] “were seeking all the more to kill Him.” But why? The Apostle John tells us: “because He . . . was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” The Jews (and the Apostle John) clearly understood that by claiming God was His Father, Jesus was claiming to be “equal with God.”

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)

Many Christians rightfully point to this passage to show that Jesus claimed equality with God the Father. As with Jesus’ other undeniable claims to be God (cf. John 5:17-18; 8:58-59), the response of the Jews in verse 33 is an irrefutable confirmation of Jesus’ claim to be God: “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”

However, it is not merely in verse 30 where we see a clear claim of equality with God. Note the passages leading up to verse 30.

In verses 27-29, Jesus claims that He is the Shepherd and He gives His sheep eternal life and no one can snatch them from His or His Father’s hand. The Jews were familiar with Psalm 95:7: “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.”

Knowing that only YHWH can make this claim of having sheep in His hand as well as giving them eternal life (cf. Isa. 43:11), when Jesus made this exact claim and then added, “I and the Father are one,” it’s easy to understand the response of the Jews: “You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”

Therefore, to answer the question, “Did Jesus claim to be God?”, the answer is an emphatic YES, Jesus claimed He was God in the most unequivocal and explicit way.

He claimed He was the egō eimi (“I am”; John 8:24 et al);
He was Son of God (by nature; John 5:17-18; cf. 17:5), which was only applied to YHWH;
He claimed that He has sheep in His hand and He is one in essence with the Father (John 10:27-30)

The neuter hen (“one”) in John 10:30 denotes unity in essence, as the context demands (cf. vv. 27-30 along with the response of the Jews in v. 33).

Jesus’ claims to be equal with God were much stronger and clearer than if He had said, “I am God.” We also see other unmistakable claims of deity such as when Jesus boldly stated He was “greater than the Temple” (Matt. 12:6); that He has “the authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10); that He is “Lord of The Sabbath” (Mark 2:28); etc.

The Worship of Jesus

We worship Jesus because He is truly God. He came to serve, not to be served (cf. Mark 10:45). His mission on earth was to die for the redemption of sinners, for this reason, God became flesh. Hence, it was not His role on earth to demand His creatures to worship Him—but believers did this naturally when they understood who he truly was. (cf. Matthew 14:33, Matthew 28:9, Luke 24:52, etc)

However, in John 5:22-23, Jesus states that the purpose of the Father giving all judgment to Him was for the result of all honoring the Son in the same way (kathōs) they would honor the Father. The honor that is given to the Father is clearly religious honor—namely, worship.

Therefore, Jesus asserts His essential equality with God by expressing that the worship/honor given to the Father is to be given to the Son and if one does not worship/honor the Son, he or she “does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Further, we find many examples in both the OT and NT where Jesus was worshiped in a religious context and He accepted it (e.g., Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:13-14).

adapted from an article by Edward Dalcour, the Muslim Challenge: Where Did Jesus Say I Am God, Worship Me, ChristianDefense.org

Further reading: Jesus

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