Jesus' Divinity in the Synoptic Gospels

Question

Erhman writes, "...if Jesus claimed he was divine, it seemed very strange indeed that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all failed to say anything about it." Then he adds, "Did they just forget to mention that part?" So, this lack of consistency disproves Jesus’ divinity. Correct?

Answer

Affirmation

The Bible is comprised of two testaments (Old & New), sixty-six inspired books, 1189 chapters, 31,173 verses, and 773,692 words. The sixty-six books of the Bible were written by approximately forty different men over a period of about 1500 years.

God's word is true (Prov. 30:5). Since there is no higher authority, God is his own authority (Psa. 12:6; cf. Heb. 6:13; 2 Pet. 3:16). Jesus prayed to God the Father, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). God has promised to preserve the truth for his people (cf. Isa. 59:21; Matt. 5:17-18; John 10:35) and declares that belief in it is absolutely necessary (cf. John 5:46-47; 1 Cor. 14:36-38).

God’s word is clear. (Deut. 6:6-9). In other words, the basic message of the Bible is clear enough for anyone to understand it — even a child. While there are some passages of Scripture that are difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16), the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture means that anyone who studies to show himself approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15) can understand the essential message of salvation and what it means to please the Lord (Psa. 73:24-26; John 17:22, 24; 1 Cor. 10:31; cf. WSC .1.1).

The Bible is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 2:21; cf. Exod. 20:1; 2 Sam. 23:2; Isa. 8:20; Mal. 4:4; Matt. 1:22; Luke 24:44; John 1:23; 5:39; 10:34-35; 16:13; 19:36-37; 20:9; Acts 1:16; 7:38; 13:34; Rom. 1:2; 3:2; 4:23). The original documents (i.e., autographs) are God-breathed and a divine product. Though God used human instrumentality, the original texts were breathed out, or inspired, by the Lord himself. The Bible is the word of God.

The Bible is inerrant. Inerrancy means the Scriptures do not err; nor do they affirm any errors. There is no error mixed with truth (cf. Psa. 12:6), and what it teaches is wholly truth. The Bible does not endorse anything that is untrue; it is entirely truthful and has no errors in the autographs. So, the Scripture contains no affirmations of anything that is contrary to fact.

The Bible is also infallible. This is thought of as a stronger term than inerrancy. Infallibility deals with possibilities and so it means the Scriptures cannot err; it is incapable or impossible of teaching any error. The autographs are absolutely trustworthy (Psa. 19:7; 111:7), sure (2 Pet. 1:19), and worthy of full acceptance (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Tit. 3:8).

So, if one disagrees with what is written in John, must they not be considered a liar?

The person quoted in the question is Bart Ehrman who is a professed agnostic but at heart an atheist, so I’m not the least bit surprised by his false ramblings concerning God’s Word. Essentially, Ehrman says he is just a historian and is only concerned about things that do not require faith in order to understand them. At times he rebukes anyone who desires to insert value judgments into historical discussions. Yet he himself offers numerous protestations about the immorality of early Christianity and how they were guilty of anti-Semitism. Among many other things, he’s incorrect about the resurrection of Jesus, and he doesn’t even believe the Bible we have is anywhere close to the original autographs. From these same false value judgments, he then argues against the Christian origin of the divinity of Jesus.

The Question

So, what about your question? While much of what the Gospel writers wrote are related, some of it simply isn’t. And there is nothing wrong with that. I'll refer to my experience as a homicide detective to provide an example. During investigations I would take witness statements – lots of them. While the witness statements would generally relate the same facts of an incident, some facts were more emphasized by certain witnesses than others, and some weren’t mentioned by the other witnesses at all. Why? Because they had a different perspective, or because they just didn’t desire to repeat what the others had already stated.

To some this is a dilemma, but is it really? In the courtroom, to explain what some would see as a dilemma, I used this example: There are seven hills around Rome. When Rome burned, if witnesses were on each hill, each could say some things in general about the exact same fire, but they also could each share some things that the others could not see because of their unique perspective. Additionally, some might not mention ABC, because XYZ already stated it and only desired to add something that everyone else heard or saw but hadn't yet spoken of. There is absolutely nothing uncommon about this. It is a normal life experience.

Additonally, one of the most difficult tasks in my previous job as a police detective was crime scene reconstruction. You would have to use what was in the witness statements and the physical evidence itself to reconstruct what actually happened. It wasn't necessarily easy and you didn't rush to judgment! It was a puzzle to solve before taking a case before a judge and jury.

Pieces of Evidence

When we reconstruct what the Synoptic Gospels say, the stories fit together very nicely. There is no rush to judgment in saying John, like the other Gospels writers, told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing by the truth. Erhman, however, writes, "...if Jesus claimed he was divine, it seemed very strange indeed that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all failed to say anything about it." Then he adds, "Did they just forget to mention that part?" But is this really true? When I read Matthew, Mark and Luke (who also wrote the Book of Acts), I observe that they do indeed mention Jesus’ deity.

Jesus told Satan that no one should be worshipped and served except God: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’" (Matt. 4:10; cf. Luke 4:8). But after Jesus walked on water the disciples worshipped him; "And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God'” (Matt. 14:33). This at least implies if not definitely states that Jesus is God! (cf. John 1:1, 14).

If, according to Jesus, only God is to be worshipped, then why did God the Father send wise men to worship baby Jesus if he’s not God (Matt. 2:2)? Did God the Father get it wrong too? Didn’t Jesus receive worship from others as well? (Matt. 8:2; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52). And didn’t Paul and Barnabas refuse worship of themselves because they weren't God in Acts 14:11-16?

Other things can be puzzling. The first Gospel records that the Son of Man will send his angels in Matthew 13:41 (cf. Matt. 26:53). However, Luke writes that these are God’s angels (cf. Luke 12:8-9; 15:10). So, how could Jesus send angels if he wasn’t God? And Jesus said he will judge the world (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:21-22, 27). But doesn’t the Bible teach that God will judge the world? (cf. Deut. 32:35; Psa. 50:1-6; Joel 3:12).

Unlike Ehrman, if one puts the pieces of the puzzle together properly, one might consider the fact that Jesus is really God!

In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus said to the woman who anointed his feet, "Your sins are forgiven." Those who sat with him said, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" Why? Because, as Matthew, Mark and Luke all record, only God can forgive sins (Matt. 9:2-6; Mark 2:5-12; Luke 5:20-23). And Jesus wasn’t just pronouncing God the Father’s forgiveness either. What does Jesus say? “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, and take up thy bed, and go unto thy house” (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:34). Again – “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins...”

Luke writes that when Stephen was dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59-60). Why would the first recorded Christian martyr pray to Jesus if he weren’t God?

So, by the evidence presented, I must admit that what John doctrinally and emphatically states, Matthew, Mark and Luke illustrate by example. So, there is more than enough evidence to state that all four Gospel writers told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth that Jesus is God.

Another Question

This former police detective, seeing a valid indictment, would like to ask this question: Why didn’t Ehrman properly reconstruct the stories? How could someone, especially a historian and scholar, miss what is so plainly written? Could Ehrman have a more self-serving agenda or motive? Perhaps someone else should be on trial and not the book of John! Perhaps Ehrman and others like him, will repent and be forgiven by Jesus who is both Lord and God.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).