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The Muslim Challenge: “Where did Jesus say, “I am God worship Me?”

 


 

And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). . . . ” (Qur’an, Sura 5.116).[1]

 

 

 Anyone who has interfaced with Muslims (or also JWs) on the Person of Christ or nature of God has probably been asked that question. Although, Muslims are taught that Jesus was a prophet of Allah, sinless, virgin born, preformed miracles, etc. they reject that He was eternal God in the flesh, crucified, and resurrected from the dead. The rejection of the deity of Jesus Christ (and the Trinity) is common to all non-Christian cults and false religions. Because Jesus said in John 8:24 that unless you believe that I am [egō eimi], you will die in your sins” we cannot be hesitant or be timid in proclaiming that Jesus is God in the flesh—for salvation is predicated on that belief. A few months ago, in a formal debate with a Muslim apologist, I was asked the typical question: “Where did Jesus claim to be God and say worship Me?” The fact of the matter is this: If Jesus is God, Islam is proven a false religion and thus, Mohammad is merely another false prophet who deceived his followers.   

 

Jesus’ claims to deity were much stronger and clearer than if He had said, “I am God”

 

First, we must understand that in the NT, Jesus never literally said, “I am God.” As we will show, the term “God” is subject to different meanings according to the context. In other words, the term “God” (Heb. Elohim; Gk. theos) had many meanings in the OT. And in the NT, the plural form of theos (theoi, “gods”) denoted false gods (cf. John 10:34-35; 1 Cor. 8:5). In the OT, Elohim (“God”/“gods”) referred to judges (cf. Exod. 21:6; 22:8-9), false gods (cf. Ps. 96:5), the true God (cf. Jer. 10:10); etc. In Exodus 7:1, the Lord said to Moses: “See, I make you as God [Elohim] to Pharaoh.” Of course, Moses was not actually made deity, but only as God’s direct representative, he was made as God to Pharaoh. The point is, Moses, judges, angels, etc. were called “God(s),” even though they were not God by nature. So if Jesus would have stated, “I am God,” those that deny the deity of Christ could construe the phrase to mean that Jesus was merely claiming that He was a representative of God, or a perfect judge, or a mighty angel (as the JWs see it, using Isa. 9:6).

 

However, Jesus’ claims to deity were much stronger and clearer than if He had said, “I am God.” In other words, Jesus made specific claims to express His deity (some of which were used only of YHWH in the OT), which were clearly understood by both friends and enemies as claims to be equal with God. These specific claims were not used by nor were they applied to humans or angels, as with the term “God.”

 

 

Note the following claims, which explicitly demonstrate that Jesus did indeed claim to be equal with God, in the same sense as God the Father.            

 

 

Egō Eimi (“I am”)

 

In John 8:24 Jesus declared: “For if you should not believe that I am [egō eimi] you will perish in your sins” (lit. trans.). Although, many translations add the pronoun “he” (e.g., NKJ, NASB, NIV)[2] after “I am” in spite of the fact that the pronoun is not contained after egō eimi (“I am”) in any Greek manuscripts of John 8:24—nor is the pronoun contained after Jesus’ other egō eimi affirmations in John 8:28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8. Jesus claimed He was the “I am” seven times in the Gospel of John. These instances are absolute “I am” claims—i.e., with no supplied predicate. Hence, they are the not same as statements such as, for example, “I am the door” or “I am the shepherd.” These all have predicates following “I am” whereas the seven “I am” statements listed above have no supplied predicate, but rather the “I am” stands alone. Cleary this was an absolute and clear claim to deity.

 

The Hebrew phrase, ani hu, which was translated egō eimi (“I am”) in the LXX,[3] was an exclusive and recurring title for YHWH (cf. Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4; etc.). Thus, this title, then, clearly denoted YHWH alone (which the Jews clearly understood, cf. John 8:59). Further, Jesus’ claim to be the “I am” was not only seen in John 8:58 (as many assume), but note the marked progression starting in 8:24, then, vv. 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8. It is when we take all the “I am” statements do we see the thrust of His claim.

 

So strong was this affirmation of deity that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had to mistranslate the present active indicative verb, eimi (“am”) in John 8:58 turning it into a past tense, “I have been” (NWT), as if Jesus was merely claiming to be older than Abraham. However, what immediately refutes this false notion is the response of the Jews in verse 59: They wanted to stone Him (legally, under Jewish law), which clearly shows that the Jews understood Jesus’ claim as an unequivocal claim to be God. Jesus’ claim to be the “I am” was essentially a claim to be YHWH, not a mere judge, angel, or representative of God, but YHWH.  Hence, salvation is predicated on believing that the Son, Jesus Christ, is the eternal God, YHWH, the great “I am.”

 

 

The Son of God—in Essence

 

Muslims deny that Jesus’ claim to be the “Son of God” was in fact a claim of deity. Muslims are taught that Jesus was only speaking metaphorically when He referred to Himself as the Son of God (cf. John 10:36). In other words, Muslims argue that Jesus was the Son of God by doing good works, glorifying God, being humble, etc., thus, Jesus was not the one and only (monogenēs)[4] Son in a unique sense.[5] They further point out that in both the OT and NT, “son(s) of God” was applied to both angels and men (cf. Gen. 6:2; Job 1:6; Luke 3:38). So, as Muslims argue, when Jesus claimed Himself to be God’s Son, it could not have been a title of deity. In response,

 

1) The meaning of biblical words and phrases are determined by the context (as with the term Elohim). In a Semitic (Jewish) context, to be the “son of” something meant that one possesses or shares the nature of that something. In Ephesians 2:2-3, for example, the unsaved are said to be the “sons of disobedience . . . by nature children of wrath” in that they possess the nature of disobedience and wrath. Unbelievers are sons of the devil (cf. John 8:44), whereas believers are sons of God by adoption (cf. Eph. 1:5), through faith (cf. Gal. 3:26).

 

2) Even though the phrase “son(s) of God” was applied to angels and men, when applied to Jesus, it was in a context of essence or nature. Whereas Christians are sons of God by adoption, Jesus is the Son of God by nature—which was a clear claim of deity.[6] 

 

3) Son of God = God the Son (cf. John 1:18). In John 5:17-18, when Jesus said, “My Father is working until now,” note the response of the Jews (similar to John 8:59): [they] “were seeking all the more to kill Him.” But why? The Apostle John tells us: “because He . . . was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” The Jews (and the Apostle John) clearly understood that by claiming God was His Father, Jesus was claiming to be “equal with God.”             

 

 

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)

 

Many Christians rightfully point to this passage to show that Jesus claimed equality with God the Father. As with Jesus’ other undeniable claims to be God (cf. John 5:17-18; 8:58-59), the response of the Jews in verse 33 is an irrefutable confirmation of Jesus’ claim to be God: “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”

 

However, it is not merely in verse 30 where we see a clear claim of equality with God. Note the passages leading up to verse 30. In verses 27-29, Jesus claims that He is the Shepherd and He gives His sheep eternal life and no one can snatch them from His or His Father’s hand. The Jews were familiar with Psalm 95:7: “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” Knowing that only YHWH can make this claim of having sheep in His hand as well as giving them eternal life (cf. Isa. 43:11), when Jesus made this exact claim and then added, “I and the Father are one,” it’s easy to understand the response of the Jews: “You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”

 

 

Therefore, to answer the question of the objectors, Yes, Jesus claimed He was God in the most unequivocal and explicit way.

 

He claimed He was the egō eimi (“I am”; John 8:24 et al); Son of God (by nature; John 5:17-18; cf. 17:5), which was only applied to YHWH; and claimed that He has sheep in His hand and He is one in essence[7] with the Father (John 10:27-30). Jesus’ claims to be equal with God were much stronger and clearer than if He had said, “I am God.” We also see other unmistakable claims of deity such as when Jesus boldly stated He was “greater than the Temple” (Matt. 12:6); that He has “the authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10); that He gives His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45); etc.

 

The Worship of Jesus

 

We worship Jesus because He is truly God. Jesus came to earth as a humble servant (cf. Phil. 2:7-8); He came to serve, not to be served (cf. Mark 10:45). His mission on earth was to die for the redemption of sinners, for this reason, God became flesh. Hence, it was not His role on earth to demand His creatures to worship Him—believers did this naturally.

 

However, in John 5:22-23, Jesus states that the purpose of the Father giving all judgment to Him was for the result of all honoring the Son in the same way (kathōs) they would honor the Father. The honor that is given to the Father is clearly religious honor—namely, worship. Therefore, Jesus asserts His essential equality with God by expressing that the worship/honor given to the Father is to be given to the Son and if one does not worship/honor the Son, he or she “does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Further, we find many examples in both the OT and NT where Jesus was worshiped in a religious context[8] and He accepted it (e.g., Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:13-14).


 

[1] Yusufali’s translation. 

[2] The pre-2011 NIV had a bracketed clause after “I am” that read: “the one I claim to be.”

[3] LXX is the abbreviation for the Septuagint (meaning “seventy”—the traditional number of scholars that translated the OT Hebrew into Greek originating in Alexandria, Egypt around 250 B.C.). The NT authors frequently utilized the LXX in their OT citations (esp. in Hebrews). 

[4] Monogenēs means “one and only”/“unique one” (cf. John 1:14, 3:16) with no idea of “to beget,” “give birth,” or origin. Thus, monogenēs huios, means, “one and only Son” (NIV) or “unique Son” (cf. John 1:18: monogenēs theos, “God the One and Only”/“only begotten God”). The lexical meaning of the term is especially seen in Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is called one and only (monogenēs) son, yet Isaac was not Abraham’s first or only son, but he was the unique son from whom God’s “covenant would be established” (Gen. 17:19-21).

[5] See Answering Islam, which is one of the best and most prolific sites dealing with Islam > http://www.answering-islam.org

[6] The most substantial way that the “Son of God” is used is in a Trinitarian sense. Jesus Himself employs it that way in several places (cf. Matt. 11:27; 14:28-33; 16:16; 21:33-46; 26:63).

 

[7] The neuter hen (“one”) here denotes essential unity, not identity, as Oneness Pentecostals assert. In addition, it is one in essence as the context demands (cf. vv. 27-30 along with the response of the Jews in v. 33).

[8] A religious context is any such context where spirituality or holiness exists.