Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case For the Deity of Christ 


Book Review

The deity of Christ is among the handful most essential Christian doctrines. Nevertheless, there is a problem: I've often asked Christian friends--including people in the ministry--to state two or three passages in the New Testament that support this doctrine. I've especially used this question for a few ministers in training who seemed to think they already knew it all. Sadly, many have not been able to do it.

Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski would have no such difficulty! In their book Putting Jesus In His Place, they set forth some 300 pages of Biblical support for Christ's deity. Reading this book I realized--again--how much more I have to learn, too. I had no idea of the extent to which Christ's deity is demonstrated in the New Testament--virtually on every page. 

Putting Jesus in His Place This question has a fascinating and important history. In the centuries immediately following Christ's time on earth, there seems to have been at least as much doubt that he was human as that he was God. The Gnostics held to various versions of a belief that Jesus was indeed divine and only seemed to be human, or that he took on humanity as just a kind of temporary shell. The Da Vinci Code said that Christ's deity was a late invention of the church, brought forth for political reasons. Dan Brown got that exactly wrong.

Today the issue splits in two. For many, Jesus' deity is a non-question: the New Testament record is unhistorical or unreliable, they suppose, so they care little what it says about the Jesus' relationship to God. Bowman and Komoszewski have not addressed that issue in this book. They speak instead to people who (at least claim to) accept the authority of the New Testament, but dispute the conclusion of Jesus' deity being drawn from it. Chief among these would be quasi-Christian cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses. You may not have had a Jehovah's Witness knock on your door in past few months, but their numbers are growing worldwide.

There is no doubt that, taken at its word, the New Testament honors Jesus high above all other men. The question is whether that honor constitutes a case for his actually being God. When Jesus is called "Lord," does it mean the same as LORD (YHWH, or God) in the Old Testament? Or is it a less exalted honorific, like "Sir"? Are the acts of apparent worship toward Christ, such as when Thomas finally recognized the reality of his resurrection, suitable only for a God, or were they appropriate for a lesser representative of God? When Jesus said "I and the Father are one," did that mean that he and the Father really, really agreed on things, or did it mean something more than that?

Bowman and Komoszewski categorize the relevant issues by the acronym HANDS. Jesus, they say, shares in God's Honors, Attributes, Names, Deeds, and Seat (the throne of God). They show how these shared characteristics are far more than superficial. I'll draw from just one example among the many, to illustrate:

"Paul frequently refers to Jesus as 'Lord' in 1 Corinthians in such a way as to identify him, or to equate him, with the Lord Jehovah of the Old Testament. Three instances appear in the opening ten verses alone. Christians, according to Paul, are 'all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Cor. 1:2). The Old Testament, of course, taught that one should call on the name of the Lord YHWH (e.g., Joel 2:32, which as we have seen, Paul also applied to Jesus in Romans 10:13). A few verses later, Paul says that Christians hope to be found 'blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ' (1:8; see also 5:5), where as the Old Testament spoke of that judgment day as 'the day of YHWH' (e.g., Joel 1:15, 2:1, 11,31). The allusion to 'the day of the Lord' (cf. Joel 2:31) in the same context as 'calling on the name of the Lord (cf. Joel 2:32) makes it all the more likely that Paul's language alludes directly to Joel. He refers to this future day of the Lord Jesus in several other epistles.... Paul then exhorts his readers 'by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ' (1:10), again placing the focus on the name of the Lord Jesus that Judaism placed on the name of the Lord YHWH (see our earlier discussion of this point in chapter 11)."

The point of this quote is of course not to set forth an unassailable proof of Jesus' deity in one paragraph, but to illustrate the way the authors build their case throughout the entire book. The honors given to Jesus, the attributes, names, and deeds ascribed to him, the throne on which he sits--these things can only apply to God himself.

This book could be read as a devotional guide, lifting up the name of Christ; as a polemical guide, preparing the reader to argue the case for Christ's deity; or it could even be useful as a reference book--it is so clearly organized that whatever Biblical question you may have about Christ's deity, you'll be able quickly to find a Biblical answer. (Though it is published by Kregel's academic/professional arm, it's readable for any average reader.)

Such a book would have been immensely useful to my friends and me when I first came to faith in Christ. My next-door neighbor in the dormitory accepted Christ just about a week before I did, and another near neighbor also did at about the same time. We were all low brass players in Michigan State's music program, coincidentally enough. Within that same month, a Jehovah's Witness began trying to convince some of us that Christian beliefs about Jesus Christ were all wrong. He caused considerable confusion, and it led to tense moments and confrontations, such as you can only appreciate if you have been there. One of the members of our dorm fellowship revealed that he was a member of a cult known as "The Way" during this time; he had kept that hidden from us that before.

But why should we have made such a big fuss over this? There is good reason: if Christ is God and we do not honor him as such, we defame the very nature and character of God. Jesus said that those who have seen him have seen the Father, and the book of Hebrews calls him the very image of God. If we deny Christ, we deny our King, Creator, and Lord. On the other hand, if Christ is not God, then we who worship him as God are guilty of blasphemy such as the Muslims charge us with. We are polytheists, idolaters, infidels, as wrong as we could possibly be about God. The conflict is hardly academic.

Bowman and Komoszewski provide assurance, beyond what I had ever previously imagined, that our belief in Christ's deity is exactly what the New Testament intended us to hold.

I could wish that the book portrayed the drama of this doctrine more than it does. It would have added interest, for example, if there had been an historical overview, showing how the doctrine of Christ's deity was disputed, clarified, developed, and explained in the early centuries of Christianity. It is abundantly clear that the New Testament authors regarded Christ as God, yet they did not do the theological and philosophical work of explaining how one person could possess two natures, human and divine; and they did not carefully consider how God could, without contradiction, be three persons yet one God. These doctrines, though clearly founded in Scripture, had to be developed over time by the church Fathers. Absent from this book, too, is a clear depiction of the controversy over Christ's deity as it stands today with the cults. There are brief references to current counter-claims, but nothing in depth.

But that was not the intent of the book. What it sets out to do, it does very well: to provide a Biblical theology of the deity of Christ. With this, Christians can be confident that the case is closed and the dispute is settled. And we can be prepared--as my friends in ministry, mentioned above, eventually were--in case someone asks us to show that the Bible really does teach the deity of Christ.


Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski; Foreword by Darrell L. Bock. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications (Academic and Professional), 2007. 281 pages plus Appendix (content review charts), substantial endnotes (83 pages), and bibliography. Release Date September 30, 2007. Available for pre-order on Amazon, U.S. $12.91.

Cross-posted at strategicchristian.net  

Posted: Sat - July 7, 2007 at 04:25 PM           |


© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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