In a recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Jimmy Akin, Bart claimed (in seconds 30:23-30:47) that Jesus never referred to Himself as God in the three synoptic gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKShBLRixR8&t=8137s). Bart claims that only in the later written gospel of John do we find Jesus claiming to be God, the “I AM”, the one with the Father, and the image of the Father (John 14). As such, Bart concludes that Christianity started with Jesus as the Messiah and gradually kept elevating Jesus to be God Himself. Is this claim really true? Well, not really because of two main reasons.
First, the earliest written text in the New Testament are the letters of St. Paul. It is well known that Paul’s undisputed letters were written even before the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark. In the letters of Paul, we find abundant evidence that Christians believed that Jesus was God, and therefore, the Gospel of John didn’t invent the divinity of Jesus. For example, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he stated:
“And without controversy great is the [a]mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16).
Paul was clear that Jesus was God manifested in the flesh. He also confirmed that Jesus was fully God by stating that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9-10). There are many more verses from Paul’s letters that indisputably establish the divinity of Jesus.
Second, in contrast to Bart’s claim, Jesus’ divinity is clearly established in the Synoptic gospels alone. The earliest gospel, the gospel of Mark, starts with the claim that Jesus is the Son of God “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1), and that Jesus is the Lord:
“As it is written in the Prophets:
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.” (Mark 1:2-3)
Mark records that even the demons knew that Jesus was God when he healed a possessed man. The demons shouted: “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24). Jesus certainly didn’t deny such a confession. The Scribes knew that Jesus acted like God when he forgave the paralyzed man as they thought in their hearts “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Jesus also challenged the Pharisees when he “answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit:
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’
Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?” (Mark 12:35-37).
In conclusion, the claim that the gospel of John elevated Christ to become God is not true. Paul’s letters, which were written earlier than the gospels, confirm the doctrine that Jesus is God. In addition, there are numerous claims and actions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels that confirm that Jesus is God, the Son of God, and the Son of Man.