1.1 Christian perspective
It is my great privilege and pleasure to have been invited to address the readers [of this publication] on some of the most important distinctions between Christianity and Islam. Four questions have been proposed as a means of clarifying the Biblical perspective in relation to the series of articles on Jesus and Christianity that appeared last semester.
As I see it, all four questions essentially come together in one basic question: Who is Jesus? The answer to that question, and the heart of the message that has been proclaimed by followers of Jesus since His advent, is that "you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31).
Addressing each of these questions may now help clarify this historic Christian conviction.
1. Is there a Trinity?
The Biblical teaching of God's essential nature, summarized in the word "Trinity," rests largely on our understanding of the identity of Jesus, a question I will take up in some length under question #3.
At this point, perhaps a demonstration that the terminology for the doctrine of the Trinity is found throughout the New Testament:
* "therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19).
* "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men." (I Corinthians 12:4-6).
* "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (II Corinthians 13:14).
* "But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." (Jude 20-21).
The doctrine of the Trinity is perhaps best understood in terms of Christian salvation. Christians believe that God the Father wills that we be reconciled to Him from sin, and that He sent the Son, Who in His perfect life and substitutionary death provides the basis of that reconciliation, and that the Father now, in Jesus' name, sends the Holy Spirit, Who applies the salvation of Jesus to the Christian believers, thus saving them and empowering them to live lives of victory over sin. Thus is the Christian's experience and assurance of salvation in terms of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yet they absolutely believe that there is only one God. How do we put this together? This is where the word "Trinity" comes in. It expresses this truth about God as it is found in the Bible.
This is certainly not an exhaustive explanation, but it may help to demonstrate the significance of the doctrine in practical Christian life.
2. Is Jesus the physical (begotten/sired) son of God?
Jesus is presented in the New Testament as the Son of God by virtue of His unique eternal relationship with the Father and by means of His unique virgin birth. We need to understand, then, how Jesus is the Son of God. The New Testament tells us how:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18-21).
The question as stated implies that Jesus is somehow the result of a physical union between God and Mary, but this is not at all the case. Jesus' birth is a miraculous event through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Son's deity is incarnated, or made flesh; in this Jesus is the "God-man"
Begotten is the old English word that, while in human terms means to have a child, the emphasis even there is that what a human father "begets' shares in the essential nature of that father. It is in this sense that the King James translates the Greek word monogenes as "begotten ; Jesus shares the essential nature of the Father, but rather through some physical act, but a supernatural one.
3. Did Jesus Himself ever say in the Bible "I am God!" or "worship me!"?
What makes Jesus stand out from all other religious figures is the nature of His claims about Himself. He claims the prerogatives of God, the rightful object of a person's supreme allegiance, and receives with out censure the worship and obedience of those who believe.
A number of examples may help to illustrate this:
A. Forgiveness of sins
In Mark 2:1-12, we read the account of Jesus healing a crippled man. What is so surprising, and so shocking to His original audience, is the statement that Jesus makes before healing the man.
As Jesus sees a group of men bring the paralytic to Him, Mark records the scene:
When Jesus saw their faith , he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.
Jesus in the Gospels appropriates two significant titles throughout His ministry:
1. The Son of Man
This is the title that Jesus Himself uses most frequently. It is a Messianic title derived from the Old Testament book of Daniel. When we read the passage in Daniel, the implicit claim that Jesus is making about Himself becomes apparent:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He (the son of man) was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14).
2. The Son of God
At His trial Jesus affirmed this title: Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am," said Jesus. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:61-63).
C. Jesus' direct claims
At the climax of a lengthy argument, Jesus speaks of Himself: "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." "You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds." (John 8:56-59).
The shock of this claim are those two words "I am." It is the same designation that God used for Himself in His call to Moses: God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14).
D. Jesus receives worship
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, Jesus said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him.." Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.." Then the man said, "Lord. I believe," and he worshipped him." (John 9:35-38).
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him... (Matthew 28:16-17).
E. Jesus accepts divine entitlement
In what is a clear dialogue between Jesus and "Doubting" Thomas, we read: Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus held him," Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:27-29).
Does Jesus say, "I am God"? No, because that would have been misunderstood. Jesus is not the Father (as it would have been thought), Jesus is the Son. But He clearly claims an absolutely unique relationship with God whom Jesus calls 'Father." Jesus claims something about Himself that, through the various miracles, His statements as cited above, and the response He receives from other people, is slowly filled-out, and the meaning of His Sonship becomes clear.
In the very opening of his Gospel, the Apostle John presents Jesus as "the Word" and provides perhaps the clearest explanation of the identity of Jesus, the meaning of the incarnation, and a further glimpse into the reality of the Trinity:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4; 14).
4. If it can be proven, through the Bible, that Jesus is not God, nor the physical/begotten/sired son of God, neither is there any trinity, then will this prove that the unscrupulous few have corrupted the word of God?
The Christian message about Jesus revolves around three facts: the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Prove from the Bible or otherwise that any one of these three things are not true, and like a three-legged stool the truth of the message would collapse.
Most "proofs" against the traditional teachings of Christianity consist of pitting one passage of Scripture against another, and almost always taking such passages out of context. Context, I believe, always vindicates the understanding of God and of Jesus as I have here tried to briefly present.
I would conclude, then, with an encouragement for the readers to read the Bible, particularly one of the Gospels, for themselves. There, I believe, the words and works of Jesus would provide a most convincing reason to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, and find in Him the spiritual satisfaction that so many today seek after.