The divinity of Jesus is central. It is the most basic yet mysterious thing you will ever be told or tell of. It is a truth-claim that divides and demands response, and this response defines you. As Christians we understand the beauty and benefit of responding positively to the Lord Jesus Christ; we have tasted the fruits of faith and joy of Christ’s comfort. Yet we should not be surprised when people attack or challenge the truth of Jesus’ divinity: Not only do we live in a society where the popular voice has little respect for theistic belief, but people realise that the truth of Jesus’ divinity means parts of their life must change.
A little over ten years since the publication of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, I still meet people who somewhat patronisingly inform me that Constantine, the Roman emperor, got the early church together at a council and promoted Jesus from mortal prophet to a God and before that Jesus was only thought of as human. This view seems to have been accepted by folk as an easy side-step to the Christian claim, but it is riddled with historical inaccuracies. The Bible contains within it ample evidence of the early church’s belief that Jesus was God, but the evidence doesn’t stop there.
Two really clear examples come from the Letters of Ignatius, which were written by the Bishop of Antioch,Syria. According to Michael W. Holmes, a leading New Testament and Apostolic Fathers textual critic, there is ‘near unanimous consensus that Ignatius was martyred during the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117)’ and that the letters are considered authentic by the ‘great majority of scholars since [the late 19th century]’ [The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 170,172]. These letters were written to encourage various churches as he was on his way to be martyred. They show that the gospel and Jesus’ divinity were both believed and worth dying for. The first example is brief and memorable for conversations with skeptics. Below it is a second, longer quotation for a little extra juice.
For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.
-The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians, 18:2a
I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit, and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ, totally convinced with regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin…’
– The Letter of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, 1:1