5 Thoughts on the Deity of Christ. How is it Proven?

We believe that Jesus is God.  But do we believe that Jesus is God because the historical record backs up the proposition or because we choose to believe by faith?  Do we believe in His deity by faith or do we come to this conclusion through historical, empirical evidence?

1.    The Search for the Historical Jesus

Because it is impossible for anyone of intelligence to claim that Jesus never truly walked the streets of Jerusalem there are those throughout Christian history that have claimed that Jesus did exist but was merely a man of consequence, a moral teacher of his day and a political revolutionary but he was not God.  However, theologians such as Dr. Albert Schweitzer began to push back on these claims stating that these theologians were simply attempting to prove their own preconceived ideas rather than looking at the empirical evidence.  Martin Kahler went further to express, “the historical Jesus of modern authors conceals from us the living Christ.”[1]  He proposed we focus on the Christ of the Gospels.  The one who performed miracles and rose from the grave.

2.    Christology from Above

In response to those who only viewed Jesus from a historical perspective and not from a Biblical perspective, men like Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Emil Brunner expressed that faith in Christ does not come from historical research.  Though we can learn certain things about Jesus, such as he was born in Bethlehem and was a carpenter, we can never know Jesus as Christ until we, by faith, believe his proclamations.  “Christology from above” begins the study of Jesus with his Divine nature (He is God) and then moves to his humanity.

3.    Christology from Below

In reaction to those who presupposed the divinity of Jesus (Christology from above) there were those who argued for Christology from Below.  This idea teaches that to truly come to a final and rationally legitimate opinion about the person of Jesus we must begin from man’s perspective, that Jesus was a man.  With this as our starting point we can then go on to look at his claims and the claims of others relating to his Deity.  It is believed by many that you can still come to the full knowledge of Christ’s Deity from this route.  For example, Jesus the man was crucified and then rose from the grave, therefore, He must be God.  Or, Jesus the man claimed to be God and was neither a lunatic nor liar so He must be Lord.

4.    The Problem with Both

There is a problem with both perspectives.  If we study Christology from above and presuppose that Jesus is God without any historical or empirical evidence we have a blind faith that is built upon nothing but selfish desire to be proven right.  If we study Christology from below and attempt to prove Christ’s deity from purely the historical record and empirical evidence we presuppose that everyone who looks at the evidence will be convinced that Jesus is God.  The problem is there are many who do the research and still do not believe. Reason alone cannot bring us to the conclusion of Jesus’ claims.

5.    The Both Approach

Is it possible that faith and reason be held together.  Millard Erickson in his Christian Theology tends to think so.[2]  From this perspective we begin with faith.  We believe that Jesus is the Christ, Son of God, and God incarnate but then we continue with reason to explain who Jesus was historically.  Therefore, we understand Christ, not through faith alone, nor historical reason alone but through a beautifully cohesive, intertwining of the two.  Jesus himself uses both to prove his claims.  When John the Baptist needs assurance of Christ’s Deity, Jesus points to historical, empirical evidence.  (Luke 7)  When Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah sent from God, Jesus reminds him that Peter did not come to this conclusion through physical evidence but directly from the Father by faith. (Matthew 16)

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Would you fall more on the side of Christology from above or Christology from below?  What do you think about the Both Approach?

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[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 1998), 681.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 1998), 689-670.

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