Jesus Christ is the central figure of Christianity, but there are differing perspectives on the precise nature of his identity. This question – whether Jesus is God – has been debated for centuries among Christians of various denominations.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The vast majority of historical and modern Christians do believe that Jesus is God. However, there are some denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism, that view him instead as a created being.
In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll explore what the Bible says about Jesus’s divinity, the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity, perspectives from major branches of Christianity, and an overview of denominations that hold unorthodox christological beliefs.
Biblical Basis for Jesus as God
Old Testament Foreshadowing
The belief that Jesus is God is rooted in the biblical texts, with foreshadowing found in the Old Testament. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, there are prophecies that point to the coming of a Messiah who would be divine.
For example, in Isaiah 9:6, it says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
This verse suggests that the Messiah would not only be an ordinary man but also possess divine attributes.
Jesus’s Own Claims to Divinity
Jesus himself claimed to be divine on several occasions. In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” This statement implies that Jesus is equal to God, as he identifies himself as being one with the Father. Additionally, in John 8:58, Jesus declares, “Before Abraham was born, I am.”
By using the phrase “I am,” Jesus is alluding to the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. These claims by Jesus indicate his belief in his own divinity.
New Testament Writers on Christ’s Identity
The New Testament writers also affirm Jesus’s identity as God. In the Gospel of John, it begins with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
This verse establishes the divinity of Jesus, referring to him as the Word who was both with God and was God. Additionally, the apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”
This verse emphasizes the belief that Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s nature.
These biblical passages and writings from both the Old and New Testaments provide a strong foundation for the belief among Christians that Jesus is indeed God. The combination of prophecies, Jesus’s own claims, and the affirmations of the New Testament writers contribute to the understanding of Jesus’s divine nature.
Historical Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity, which asserts that Jesus is God, has been a central belief in Christianity for centuries. However, this doctrine did not emerge fully formed in the early days of the Christian faith.
It underwent a process of development and refinement as the early church grappled with theological debates and heresies.
Early Debates and Heresies Related to Jesus’s Divine Nature
In the early years of Christianity, there were diverse opinions and debates about the nature of Jesus. Some argued that Jesus was a purely human figure, while others believed he was a divine being. These debates gave rise to various heresies such as Arianism, which denied the full divinity of Jesus.
One of the key figures in these early debates was Athanasius, who vigorously defended the divinity of Jesus. His writings and arguments played a crucial role in shaping the future development of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Formulation of the Nicene Creed
In the year 325 AD, the First Council of Nicaea was convened to address the theological controversies surrounding the nature of Jesus. This council produced the Nicene Creed, which affirmed that Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.”
The Nicene Creed played a significant role in establishing a foundational understanding of the Trinity within Christianity. It provided a clear statement of belief in the divinity of Jesus and solidified the orthodox position on this matter.
Further Trinitarian Refinements After Nicaea
While the Nicene Creed laid a strong foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity, further refinements and clarifications were made in the following centuries. The Council of Constantinople in 381 AD expanded on the Nicene Creed and affirmed the divinity of the Holy Spirit, completing the Trinitarian formula as we know it today.
Throughout the centuries, theologians and scholars have continued to delve into the intricacies of the Trinity, seeking a deeper understanding of this central mystery of the Christian faith. Their writings and insights have provided valuable contributions to the ongoing development of Trinitarian theology.
Major Branches of Christianity on Jesus’s Divinity
The Catholic View
Within the Catholic Church, the belief in Jesus’s divinity is a central tenet of their faith. Catholics believe that Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God Himself, a belief known as the doctrine of the Trinity.
According to this doctrine, God exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. They are all fully God, yet one God. This understanding of Jesus’s divinity is based on various biblical passages, including John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-20.
Eastern Orthodox View
The Eastern Orthodox Church also upholds the belief in Jesus’s divinity. They share a similar understanding of the Trinity as the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church emphasizes the mystery and transcendence of God, particularly in their liturgical worship.
They believe that Jesus, as the Son of God, is fully divine and equal to the Father. The divinity of Jesus is a crucial aspect of their faith and is celebrated in their liturgical traditions.
Mainline Protestant Views
Mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches, generally affirm the divinity of Jesus. However, within these denominations, there can be some theological diversity and varying emphasis on Jesus’s divinity.
For example, some Anglicans/Episcopalians may place more emphasis on the incarnation and humanity of Jesus, while still affirming his divinity. Lutherans, on the other hand, emphasize the concept of “two natures” in Jesus: both fully divine and fully human.
Evangelical Christians, who come from various denominational backgrounds, also believe in the divinity of Jesus. They see Jesus as the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity. Evangelicals emphasize the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus and often focus on his role as Savior and Lord.
They believe that through faith in Jesus, one can have salvation and eternal life.
It’s important to note that while these are the general perspectives of major Christian branches, individual beliefs can vary within each denomination. There may be theological differences and nuanced interpretations of Jesus’s divinity, but the core belief in his divinity is central to Christianity as a whole.
Denominations With Unorthodox Christology
Jehovah’s Witnesses View
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is not God, but rather the first of God’s creation. They view Jesus as a separate and distinct being from God, and consider him to be the archangel Michael before coming to earth as a human.
According to their beliefs, Jesus is a divine being, but not equal to God in essence or nature.
This perspective is based on their interpretation of biblical texts, particularly passages such as John 1:1 which they translate as “the Word was a god” instead of “the Word was God.” Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the distinction between God and Jesus, highlighting Jesus’ role as a mediator between God and humanity.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons, has a unique understanding of Christology. They believe that Jesus is the literal son of God the Father and a separate divine being. Mormons view Jesus as a God, but not the only God.
They believe that individuals have the potential to become gods and goddesses in the afterlife through following Jesus’ teachings and ordinances.
In addition to the New Testament, Mormons also consider the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price as scripture. These additional texts provide further insights into their understanding of Jesus’ divinity and the plan of salvation.
Christadelphians, a small Christian group, reject the traditional doctrine of the Trinity and believe that Jesus is not God. They consider Jesus as a fully human being, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and not possessing a pre-existing divine nature.
Christadelphians emphasize the importance of Jesus’ role as the Messiah and Savior, but they do not view him as divine.
Their beliefs are rooted in their interpretation of biblical texts, focusing on passages that emphasize Jesus’ humanity and his dependence on God the Father. Christadelphians believe that Jesus’ authority and power were given to him by God, rather than being inherent in his own nature.
Unitarian Universalist View
Unitarian Universalists come from a diverse range of theological backgrounds, but many reject the traditional Christian understanding of Jesus as part of the Trinity or as God. Instead, they view Jesus as a human being who embodied divine qualities and teachings.
Unitarian Universalists emphasize the importance of Jesus’ moral teachings and his role as a spiritual guide.
As a non-creedal religious movement, Unitarian Universalists encourage individual exploration and interpretation of religious texts and beliefs. Some may consider Jesus to be a prophet or a wise teacher, while others may view him as a metaphorical representation of the divine within each person.
It is important to note that these denominations’ views on Christology differ from mainstream Christian beliefs, which hold that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Understanding these diverse perspectives can lead to a greater appreciation and dialogue among people of different faith traditions.
For the overwhelming majority of historical and modern Christians, Jesus is considered to be divine – part of the holy Trinity along with God the Father and Holy Spirit. Core biblical passages and the conclusions of early church councils affirm this belief.
However, a minority of Christian-identifying groups do not subscribe to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. For them, Jesus is a created being, separate from and subordinate to God. But these unorthodox perspectives diverge from 2,000 years of mainstream Christian thought.
Despite continuing theological disputes on the precise relationship of the Son and the Father, the divinity of Christ remains a central tenet of Christianity for most denominations. Faith in Jesus as God is what sets Christians apart from other major monotheistic religions like Judaism and Islam.