The Deity of Christ in the Gospel According to St Matthew

A friend of mine has a friend named Matthew, a Christian who had got hold of some of Professor Ehrman’s books and, as a result, lost his faith in Jesus and the bible.  Now Matthew won’t listen to anything my friend tries to tell him to encourage him to come back to Jesus, and yet he laments the loss of the faith he once had.  So, although he’s been deceived, he too now wilfully rejects Christ.  Bart Ehrman is directly responsible for Matthew’s destruction.  By his cleverly written but error-filled books, he has dismantled and destroyed Matthew’s faith.  But Bart Ehrman has not only destroyed Matthew’s faith and eternal security, he has done the same to a large number of people known only to God, and his books will live on well after Ehrman has died and gone to the place he deserves and doesn’t believe in.

The assurances of a deceiver

Is Bart Ehrman a liar?    Probably not intentionally.  But he insists he hasn’t written his books to take away people’s faith: “Some readers will find it surprising that I do not see the material in the preceding chapters as an attack on Christianity or an agnostic’s attempt to show that faith, even Christian faith, is meaningless and absurd.  That is not what I think, and it is not what I have been trying to accomplish” (Ehrman, 2009, p 271).

And yet, at the beginning of his book, he reveals that he’s written for the express purpose of undermining and robbing Christians of their faith.  He says, “This book is not, then, about my loss of faith.  It is, however, about how certain kinds of faith – particularly the faith in the Bible as the historically inerrant and inspired Word of God – cannot be sustained in light of what we historians know about the Bible.  The views I set out in this book are standard fare among scholars……But most people in the street, and in the pew, have heard none of this before.  That is a real shame, and it is time that something is done to correct the problem (Ehrman 2009, p 18).

And the rest of the book is devoted to trashing any idea of Christ being Saviour; virgin born; second Person of the Trinity; reality of heaven and hell; authority, reliability, and trustworthiness of the bible; authorship of the gospels and other canonical books; origins of Christianity – in short, Professor Ehrman targets everything that history teaches and bible-believing Christians believe about Christianity.  He leaves no stone unturned in order to dig out any snake, scorpion, centipede or spider that will hurt the traditional understanding of the gospel, and hides his enmity under the guise of scholarship, his current “more sophisticated faith” (p 277), and that he’s just one of many scholars who believe as he does.  He varies his attempts to destroy trust in the bible, sometimes by direct attack and denial and “untruths”, sometimes by sowing seeds of doubt, sometimes by appeal to our “better understanding”, and so on.  But whichever approach he takes, underneath it all is his stated aim of destroying the faith of those who believe in the bible and all that it teaches about God.

He lost his own faith because his teachers in the liberal theological institution he attended sowed doubt in his mind.  Cunningly, they didn’t outright deny what he believed, they just asked questions which were sufficient to undermine his faith and provoke and encourage him to look at his beliefs from their point of view.  Once those seeds of doubt had been sown, they commenced their deadly work, and he did the rest, abandoning his fundamentalist beliefs and embracing the liberal theology with open arms.  And now he wants to rob others of their faith and uses the same tactics of doubt combined with “scholarship”.

So it is for those whose faith has been rocked by Professor Ehrman’s lies and bad scholarship that I write these articles, hoping that God will direct them to my web site where they can find reassurance that God lives, the bible is his preserved words, and all who put their faith in Jesus have thus “passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24 RSV-CE).

An uninformed lie

As an example of the direct attack he employs, Professor Bart Ehrman says, “In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made.  In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God…” (Ehrman 2002, 102).  These statements are breath-taking in their brazenness, and display an attitude as un-academic and unprofessional as you can get.  They reveal that Bart Ehrman, so far from being the scholar I respected, has approached his subject with a determination to prove that Matthew and John contradict each other, apparently without his even having read the text.  He thus demonstrates that he is not worthy of respect or of being taken seriously as a scholar.  And with the huge number of books he’s written to debunk Christianity, he’s cashing in financially by destroying the faith of multitudes.  “For they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error” (Jude 11).

Contrary to Professor Ehrman’s statement, The Gospel According to Matthew is bristling with evidence that Jesus is God.  Matthew may not have said the actual words “Jesus is God” but he has made it very clear in the many demonstrations of Jesus’ divine power which he gives in his gospel.   Indeed, he wrote, as did the other three gospel writers, to demonstrate the deity of Jesus Christ, among other things; this is the theme of his gospel, the purpose for which he wrote.  He begins and ends his gospel assuring us that Jesus is God with us (Matt 1:23; 28:20).

Emmanuel: God with us

Matthew has some very significant things to say about the deity of Christ.  To begin with, he opens his gospel, as I said, with the assertion that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh.  Jesus’ very name, Emmanuel, means God with us (1:23); the child, Jesus, is Emmanuel.  Matthew here says exactly the same thing as John, that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…..And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1, 14).  Here is perfect agreement, perfect harmony, between the two apostles, and between their doctrine.

And here indeed was astonishing news.  The promised Messiah, the Son of David, is revealed to be more than just a man in the line of David; he was God himself, manifested in human flesh; not this time a theophany, a spirit appearing as a man or an angel, but God himself coming into this world as a true human being.  And by coming through the line of David, he showed how the promises to Israel (and to the world) would be fulfilled in himself; that God would send his servant David (i.e. Jesus) to be their shepherd and their king for ever (e.g. Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-28).

The promise was fulfilled: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14).  Both Matthew and Luke rightly understood that a virgin would conceive, not just a young woman, as the liberals tell us.  “The Hebrew word ‘almah’ is the most accurate and precise term for virgin used in the Old Testament.  Therefore, Matthew is clearly correct in quoting Isa 7:14 as being fulfilled in the virgin birth of Christ” (“KJV Study Bible”, comment on Matt 1:23).

Matthew had no doubt that this child was God manifest in the flesh, for he would have been aware of another prophecy concerning him, just two chapters after Isaiah’s prophecy of the Virgin Birth: “For to us a child is born, to us a son given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’” (Isa 9:6).  Here we see the child being called “Mighty God”, and it would be very unlikely and unreasonable to suppose that Matthew was unaware of both prophecies.

Jesus’ deity declared at his baptism

In chapter 3, Matthew tells us that as Jesus was being baptized, the three persons of the Trinity manifested themselves in different ways; in particular, the Father identified Jesus as his Son.  This is highly significant and important.  Matthew had already revealed the deity of Christ by his Virgin Birth, and by his power and authority to baptize with the Holy Spirit (3:11-12); now he shows us that God himself proclaims Jesus’ deity; “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).  And who else but God can give, or baptize a person, with God’s own divine Spirit?  Luke, too, has recorded this incident and the words that came from heaven (Lk 3:21-22).  John’s Gospel also records the account of Jesus’ baptism, and gives us information not recorded in the synoptic gospels.  He gives it to us through the words of John the Baptist: “And John bore witness, ‘I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and remain on him.  I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’.  And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (Jn 1:32-34).

To start with, here it is evident that John has before him at least one of the synoptic gospels and is adding to what Matthew and Luke wrote, giving us important information on an important subject.  While Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, at his baptism it was the Holy Spirit who came from heaven and alighted upon Jesus, while the Father declared him to be his Son.  I’ve already shown in other articles that Jesus as the Son of God means deity, and as we read through each of the gospels we see this doctrine being declared.  Jesus did not become the Son of God at his baptism; he has always been the Son of God (Ps 2:7, 12; Heb 1:8-12).  Although we’re told he was begotten by God, this does not mean he had a beginning, however far back in eternity that may have been.  As God, he has always been God: “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever’” (Heb 1:8).  This is God speaking to and of his Son, Jesus (Heb 1:1).

Jesus can forgive sin

In chapter 9, Matthew again reveals Jesus as being God.  When the paralysed man was presented to him, Jesus said to him, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2).  The scribes were present there, and they recognised what this meant.  “…some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming” (Mark adds “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mk 2:7).   But Jesus didn’t disillusion them by denying his deity.  On the contrary, he confirmed it by healing the paralytic.  He said “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he then said to the paralytic – ‘Rise, take up your bed and go home’.  And he rose went home” (Matt 9:5-6).  And as I’ve shown below, even Jesus calling himself “the Son of Man” here is a claim to deity, especially as it is coupled with the power to forgive sins.  And of his claim that God was his Father, the Jews reacted strenuously: “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he  not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God” (Jn 5:18).

Jesus declares his deity

During his trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jews had already decided that Jesus was to be killed, and they sought for false witnesses to speak against him but they were unsuccessful; and Jesus did not speak.  Finally, the High Priest demanded “I adjure by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt 26:63).  He demanded this because he knew that if Jesus admitted to it, they had him on a charge of blasphemy, a charge which carried the death penalty (Jn 5:18).

To their malicious and fiendish delight, Jesus replied “You have said so.  But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt 26:64).  Not only did Jesus admit that he was the Son of God, a claim that the Jewish leaders rightly understood as a claim to deity, he also equated this title with another that Jesus used of himself, the Son of Man.  And in so doing, he identified himself as that glorious being, the Son of Man, described in a vision given to the prophet Daniel (Dan 7:9-10, 13-14).

The High Priest who questioned Jesus, and the leading Jews who were also there, would have been self-righteously outraged at this claim by Jesus, while at the same time, gleeful – it was all they needed, and his confession dispensed with the need for the false witnesses employed by these members of the Sanhedrin.  That Jesus should identify himself with the Son of Man in this prophecy of Daniel, and that he should assert that he would be sitting on the right hand of Power (i.e. the throne of God), a claim to deity, was utterly blasphemous in the eyes of the Jews, and they needed nothing more than this to sentence him to death.

Other expressions of Jesus’ deity

Jesus commands angels

In the parable of the wheat and tares, Jesus is shown as commanding angels and hell: “The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:41-42).  This agrees with Hebrews 1:6, where the Father says of Jesus, “Let all God’s angels worship him”.  If, as God emphatically said, “I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8), why would he command the angels to worship Jesus if he wasn’t God, the second Person of the Trinity?

Furthermore, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus warns us that he is returning to earth in judgment.  “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt 24:29-31).

Who has command of the angels?  Only God!  When God gave the Law to Israel, it was preceded and accompanied by angels and trumpets and earthquake and fire – it was terrifying.  The writer of Hebrews described it thus: “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them……so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear’” (Heb 12:18-21).

The One who gave the Law on Sinai is the One who will be returning, at which time the powers of heaven shall be shaken – this One is Jesus, God and creator of heaven and earth!  The angels are his to command, and he sends them out to gather his elect to be with him – see also Matt 13:40-43; 49-50.

And who else is it that has power to gather all the nations before him to judge them, but God?  Matthew records Jesus’ warning that there is coming a time when he, as God, will indeed summon the nations before his throne to give account to him; and he will dispense judgment.  “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left…..And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:31-33, 46).

Jesus knows the future

In various passages in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus predicts his imminent trial, whipping, death, burial and resurrection – see 16:1-4, 21; 17:9, 12, 22-23.  For example, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matt 20:18-19).

Matthew gives us the fulfilment of these prophecies in chapters 26 and 27 of his gospel.  He shows how everything that Jesus said would happen to him did happen. And he shows how Jesus assured his Church that he would be with them “to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

When Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath, he referred them to the Old Testament where King David ate the showbread that was reserved in the temple.  Jesus told the Pharisees he was greater than the temple, therefore he had the right to break the Sabbath because, he said, “the Son of man is lord of the sabbath” (Matt 12:8).

How could Jesus make such a statement, one which was a claim to deity, if he wasn’t God?  When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, in the fourth Commandment which is that concerning the Sabbath, he says in part, the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God…..For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exod 20:10-11).  How could any mere man or prophet make such a claim if it wasn’t true?  Jesus’s statement that he is Lord of the Sabbath shows that he is identifying himself with the creator God; and therefore if he chooses to break the Sabbath by working, it is his prerogative to do so because the Sabbath is his alone.

Jesus is Lord of the temple

“And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers’” (Matt 21:12-13).

Jesus called the temple “My house”.  It was the place where God’s presence was on earth; where daily sacrifices were offered to God to atone for the sins of the people; where the people came to worship God and to pray – and Jesus called it his house.  “This cleansing of the temple was His first official act after entering Jerusalem.  By it He unmistakably asserted His lordship over the temple” (MacDonald p 1204).

Jesus is the Son of David

When Jesus asked the Pharisees whose Son the Messiah was, they correctly answered he was a descendant of David.  He then said, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, till I put your enemies under your feet’?  If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’” (Matt 22:41-46 cf Ps 110:1).

The capitalised “LORD” refers to God the Father, the lower case “Lord” refers to God the Son.  Matthew is quoting from Psalm 110:1.  It is similar to Psalm 45:6-7, where the Psalmist has God speaking to God – only he is not speaking to himself, he is speaking to the second Person of the Trinity, the One whom the writer to the Hebrews says is Jesus (Heb 1:8-9); and whom John says is Jesus, the Word of God (Jn 1:1, 14, 18).  Jesus is not merely a human descendant of David; he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity.

Gentiles recognise his deity

And, as Matthew reveals Jesus as the Son of God through being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, at his death, he shows some Roman soldiers, gentiles, declaring his deity.  “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’” (Matt 27:54).  Not the son of God in the Jewish understanding as Messiah, but as deity.  Matthew Henry comments on this verse: “They were soldiers, not so susceptible to the impressions of fear or pity, yet they were convinced…..His disciples believed it but dared not confess it.  The Jews determined that He was not the Son of God because He did not come down from the cross.  Yet this centurion and the soldiers make this voluntary confession.  The best of his disciples could not have said more”.

If Professor Ehrman was serious about being scholarly and thorough, he should read the text he is criticising before making rash and foolish statements about it which make him look ignorant.  The first thing he would (or should) have learned in theological or bible college, even before any lectures were given, was to engage with the text.  It appears he hasn’t learned that fundamental lesson yet.

Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity

Finally, Matthew has recorded Jesus’ last words to his disciples while on earth.  When he was about to ascend to the Father, he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…..and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

So Matthew, as the climax to his gospel, has Jesus identifying himself as the second Person in the Trinity.  There is Jesus, between the Father and the Holy Spirit, promising to be with his people forever.  And not a word of blasphemy is implied.

 

References

“Bible Believer’s Commentary: second edition” 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William MacDonald, publ. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee.

“Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them)” 2010, p 111-112, 102, by Bart Ehrman, publ., HarperCollins Publishers, NY

“The King James Study Bible: Second Edition”, Copyright 1988, 2013 by Liberty University, p 1365, publ. Thomas Nelson”

Revised Standard Version Bible, Ignatius Edition, Copyright 2006, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

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