The Big Question 34: Did the Christian Church Turn Jesus Into God?
Mar 18, 2019 1815
Did the Christian church turn Jesus into God?
This is an interesting but misinformed thing that people who try to attack the Christian faith sometimes say: that Jesus was just a normal man and that a long time after his death the Christian church suddenly started saying that he was God.
This view commonly says that it was around 300 years after the death of Jesus that the Emperor Constantine declared Jesus to be God at the Council of Nicaea. That’s what Dan Brown said is his novel, The DaVinci Code. And the whole idea is just that: fiction.
The reality is that Christians have been worshipping Jesus as God right from the start. This is clear from the very first recorded statements of the first Christians. Straight after his resurrection, the apostle Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
About 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote to the Christians at a city called Philippi that Jesus was God in human form. And John, a close eye-witness, confirms Jesus’ divinity with the words, “He was God” (John 1:1). That statement, in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, has been discovered in an ancient manuscript, and it’s carbon-dated at 100 years before Constantine, at the very latest.
In fact, in all of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, some fragments possibly dating from the first century itself, and certainly from the second century, you find a unique feature. The early Christians were careful to mark references to Jesus with a special mark, like underlining, that they reserved for the name of the one true God.
Most of what is said by those who want to attack the early divine status of Jesus is actually wrong. So, what was it that happened at this famous Council of Nicaea, which the Emperor Constantine convened in AD 325? In fact, this Council didn’t even discuss whether Jesus was God or not. Whether Jesus was God was never the issue. The issue was in what way he was God. And in the end, when they voted, only two of the 318 bishops disagreed with what the Christian church had been teaching all along.
Jesus always claimed to be God during his ministry here on earth. But not even his disciples bought it at first. They were Jews, and their strongest-held belief was that there was not just one God, but also that God was one. And this is at the core of the historical challenge of trying to explain the origins of Christianity.
There must have been some seismic shift in reality that made them decide that Jesus had been right all along, and to turn his followers from snivelling cowards into fearless worshippers of Jesus as God. There’s only one explanation: that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. The resurrection really does change everything.