The Deity of Christ (pt. 5)
During his long, fruitful ministry, Dr. John Gerstner, mentor to R.C. Sproul, wrote a series of primers on various points of theology which were later printed in Primitive Theology. Over the coming weeks we will be sharing his “Primer on the Deity of Christ” as a series of blog posts. Interestingly, the primer is in the form of a dialogue. The dialogue is between ‘‘Inquirer,’’ who is an educated, thoughtful person becoming convinced of the truths of the Christian religion (though not yet converted to them), and “Christian,’’ an experienced evangelical minister. Here is part five of that dialog.
I: I get two points, as a matter of fact. The first one is that Christ claims a unique knowledge of God. That is striking, because, really, all men know there is a God. So it’s puzzling that Jesus says no one knows the Father except the Son.
C: Yes. His statement implies that He has a unique knowledge of God.
I: The implication of that is unmistakable. Jesus Christ is saying that He is God, once again. This time it is obliquely stated. There is no unique way of knowing God except as God knows God. But is it possible that Christ would be an incarnate angel and have a knowledge of God different from what human beings have?
C: That’s theoretically possible. On the other hand, He refers to Himself in the singular. No one knows the Father save the Son. That would not be true if He was referring to an angel because there are many other angels. On the supposition, they would all know God. So that uniqueness of His knowledge seems to preclude the possibility of its being some angelic knowledge of God. Though such angelic knowledge would be different from men’s knowledge, it would not be unique: it would belong to another order of beings.
I: Furthermore, there is the additional statement that no one knows the Son save the Father. Here angels are clearly ruled
out. If He were referring to Himself as an angel, He could never say that only God knew Him, because certainly the other angels would know Him, as would human beings who came in contact with Him. Though angels are superior, they are not entirely different from men. After all, men and angels alike are creatures. Presumably they could know fellow rational creatures, however different they may be in some respects.
C: So, any way you look at it, this unique knowledge, which the Son has of the Father and the Father has of the Son, spells the deity of the Son.
I: Yes. I’m especially impressed by the latter statement, ‘‘No one knows the Son save the Father.” As you have said, creatures can know other creatures, especially of their own kind. Presumably other creatures, because they are finite, have limited knowledge. So when this creature, the man Jesus of Nazareth, says no one knows the Son save the Father. He must be referring not to human nature, but to divine nature. Only divine nature is known exclusively by God. It takes a God to know God (uniquely). \
C: This is a relatively clear and direct assertion of Christ’s deity and His oneness with the Father. They are joined in this case by unique knowledge of each other. Therefore they must each be persons in the Godhead. Again, we have an allusion to at least two persons in the Holy Trinity. Let us take one other reference in the Gospel according to Matthew that clearly indicates the deity of Jesus Christ. That is the Great Commission, which occurs at the very end of Matthew. Here we have the ascended Lord Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, saying to His apostles, “Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and teaching people to observe whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo I am with you to the end of the age.’’
I: This is a supernatural context to begin with, is it not? Christ has risen from the dead, has ascended into heaven, and is claiming that all authority in heaven and earth is given to Him. All these supernatural things certainly indicate Jesus to be a supernatural being. At the same time, they of themselves would not prove Him to be a divine being.
C: True He could still be another exalted creature who has been given all authority in heaven and earth. He, in turn, gives His apostles a commission to go into the world and make disciples for Him. But there is more here than that, which makes the exalted-creature interpretation an impossibility.
I: What is that?
C: The Trinitarian formula. You’ll notice that Christ commands His apostles to baptize disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They would have known from Jesus’ teaching that He was the Son of God, as we have seen. They would know that the baptismal formula referred to not only God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, but also the Son of God standing before them in His resurrected and ascended human form.
I: So Jesus is bracketing Himself with the divine Father and with the divine Holy Spirit.
C: Yes. Here you have the doctrine of the Trinity. It is inconceivable that Christ as a mere creature would be mentioned in the same breath with two divine beings and associated with them as if they were one. We know indeed they are one according to the overall teaching of the Bible. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God.” So this formula would indicate that Jesus Christ is on a level with these other persons and constitutes with them one God. He must,
therefore, be a person in the Godhead, judging from the baptismal formula. That is another proof of the deity of Jesus Christ; indirect but unmistakable. Christ does not say, ‘‘I am God’’; He just brackets Himself with divine beings. That amounts to saying, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” or God.
I: I can’t help but note in passing that the deity of Christ would be implied in other aspects of the Great Commission as well.
C: What are they?
I: For one thing, He commands the apostles to teach people to observe whatever He has commanded them. Certainly, it’s that same ‘‘arrogance’’ we noticed elsewhere if He were merely a creature, however exalted. Only God really has the right to demand that people follow His teaching. A mere servant such as you can only claim that his teaching should be followed insofar as it expresses the divine teaching. I think you will admit as a minister of Christ that you cannot properly say to me, ‘‘You must follow my teaching.’’
C: You are right. Was there something else as well?
I: Yes. It’s the way the commission ends: ‘‘Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.’’
C: You seem to be going ahead of me at this point. Wouldn’t it be possible for Christ just to be a divine agent who is with the church until the end of the age?
I: I guess, theoretically. But in His saying on His own authority that He will be with them to the end of the age, that would imply His omnipresence. To be with the whole church, or even those eleven apostles only, would require more than being a creature. Otherwise He couldn’t be with all of them all the time. We assume, as the church always
has, that Christ’s promise applies to the whole church, which seeks to carry out His mission to this day. If Christ was to be with the apostles through all their days, and with the entire church until the end of the age, He’d have to be divine, eternal, and infinite.
C: You’ve shown me something, which in turn has brought to mind another argument for Christ’s deity I had not noticed before. Don’t ask me why I didn’t. It’s plain enough when you point it out to me.
I: In other words, you’re admitting that a non-Christian may understand some points of Christianity better than a Christian?
C: I readily admit that. I know non-Christians who know aspects of Christian truth better than I do. I suspect you know many more things than the few we’ve so far discovered better than I do, while you have not yet professed the Christian faith. Your point is gladly, though humbly, granted.
I: Thank you.
C: Now let me turn to what is the thinnest of the Gospels, Christologically speaking. I refer to Mark, which most people think has very little developed theology, especially Christology, or theology about Christ.
I: You mean that there is less reference to the deity of Christ in Mark than in the other Gospels, just as there is much more in John than in any of the other Gospels?
C: Yes. That’s the general view. As you may know, there was a time when many scholars thought that the deity of Christ was lacking in all the Synoptics and developed only by John.
I: Yes. When I was in school, they felt that John was much later than the others. Did they not?
C: They did indeed. In fact, many of them thought the apostle John was not the author. It was once thought to be a late second-century writing, so exalted was its Christology.
I: But as we have seen, John is clearly in the generation of Jesus. Didn’t you mention that some scholars today think it’s the earliest of the four Gospels and certainly before the fall of Jerusalem?
C: Yes. What an amazing shift in critical opinion that’s occurred in this century! Getting back to Mark, it’s interesting to note that at the turn of the century, some radical critics recognized that Mark taught the deity of Christ as truly as John did.
I: How was that?
C: Well, one of the early form critics, a man named Wrede, made the remark that “Mark is as bad as John.”
I: Whatever did that mean?
C: It meant that Mark was as good as John. Mark taught the deity of Christ as truly as John did.
To be continued…
Excerpted from Primitive Theology