This article first appeared in the November 2012 issue of Israel Today. A rebuttal by Dr. Erez Soref of Israel College of the Bible was published in our March 2013 issue. Dr. Soref's rebuttal can be read here.
The libraries of the world are filled with what others have written about Jesus; and yet there are very few pages on what Jesus said about Himself. Many of His words are ignored or overlooked because they do not fit in with traditional theology.
God’s Word is interpreted by means of skillful rhetoric. However, interpretations always contain human additions, even if they are well meant. Yet we are not permitted to manipulate the Word of God, for God commands, beginning with Deuteronomy 4:2 and right through to the last book of the Bible, Revelation 22:18-19, that we should neither add nor subtract anything from His Word.
Our interpretations must be in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, the difficult words of Jesus cannot be ignored, such as the following verses:
Matthew 19:17; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19
“Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”
“I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”
“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all.”
“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.”
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”
“I and the Father are one.”
“The Son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”
Here we observe how Jesus emphasizes His dependence on God, without referring to Himself as God. Theologians interpret what the Scriptures say about Jesus. But here, Jesus is speaking about Himself. We are not permitted to add anything to or take anything away from Jesus’ words.
Jesus often begins what He is saying with “I am”: I am the way - I am the truth - I am the bread of life, etc. The Greek ego eimi (I am) does not mean “I am God” but rather “I am” the Christ, or Messiah, promised by God in the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament). Anything beyond this is adding to the Word of God. This is why we must compare every interpretation regarding Jesus with Jesus’ own statements about Himself.
Even the most well-known verse in the New Testament, John 3:16, draws a distinction between God and His Son: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” The apostles also differentiate between God and His Son and emphasize that “there is...one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). This is precisely what Jesus Christ was appointed to be, even before the foundation of the world.
In the epistle to the Corinthians, Paul describes the cycle of salvation history and Jesus’ role in it:
“The last enemy that will be abolished [by Christ] is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His [Christ’s] feet. But when He [Christ] says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He is excepted who subjected everything to Him [namely God – YHVH]. When all things are subjected to Him [Christ], then the Son Himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:26-28).
This same Paul declares that in our praise and worship we should also be aware of the distinction between Father and Son:
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Thus we should thank our heavenly Father as the one and only God - but we should do so in the name of Jesus.