The divinity of Christ - the doctrine that Jesus of Nazareth was in some sense God - dates from early Christianity and is believed by all major Christian denominations today.
The Divinity of Jesus in the New Testament
The idea that Jesus Christ is divine appears in the New Testament, written c. 50-120 CE.
Jesus as "Son of God"
Jesus is not recorded in the Gospels as referring to himself as the "Son of God," but the term is used in the writings of Paul (e.g. Ro 1:4, 8:31), which are the earliest surviving Christian writings, and in the epistle to the Hebrews (4:14).
The Gospel of John refers to Jesus simply as "the Son," which may have a similar meaning. Paul uses the term for both Christ and Christians, but distinguishes between the two: Christians become sons of God by adoption, but Jesus is the rightful Son of God by nature.
Jesus as "God"
Statements that Christ is God can be seen in the New Testament in at least the following places:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:1,14)
Thomas said to him [the resurrected Jesus], "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28)
Have this same mind in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave, having come in the likeness of a human. (Philippians 2:5-7)
But about the Son he [God] says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever." (Hebrews 1:8)
Jesus as "Lord"
In addition, some important titles and functions applied to Christ in the New Testament indicate early belief in his divinity. The statement "Jesus Christ is Lord (Greek kyrios, Hebrew adonai)" is found throughout the New Testament and was one of the earliest Christian confessions of faith.
Due to the substitution of the word "Lord" in place of YHWH (the holy name of God that may not be pronounced) in Torah readings, "Lord" had come to be almost synonymous with God in Jewish thinking by the time of Jesus.
This association can be seen in the Jews' refusal to address the Roman emperor as "lord," even under penalty of death. (Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, 327, citing Jewish historian Josephus)
Jesus' Divine Functions and Attributes
Finally, the New Testament writers apply the following functions to Jesus that are associated only with God:
- Jesus is the savior of humanity (Mt 1:21, Ac 4:12, Lk 2:11)
- One should call on the name of Jesus in prayer (1 Co 1:2) and worship him (Mt 28:9)
- Jesus reveals God directly: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn 14:9)
The Divinity of Jesus in Early Christian Writings
Between the New Testament and the Council of Nicea, virtually all Christian writers spoke of Jesus as divine. For example, the martyr Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament, wrote around 100 CE:
There is one physician, both fleshly and spiritual, born and unborn, God come in the flesh, true life in death, from both Mary and God, first subject to suffering and then beyond suffering, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Letter to the Ephesians, 7.2)
Bart Ehrman, a historian of early Christianity, writes in Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code:
[By time of the Council of Nicea in 325,] Christians for 250 years had agreed Jesus was divine. The only question was how he was divine, and that was what the Council of Nicea was called to resolve. (p. 23)
Robin Griffith-Jones, pastor of the Temple Church in London (of Da Vinci Code fame), points out in The Da Vinci Code and the Secrets of the Temple:
In the 50s or 60s C.E.--30 years at most after the death of Jesus--Paul wrote to his converts in the city of Philippi. In his letter he quoted a hymn (Philippians 2.6-10).... Every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus: Within 30 years of his death, Jesus was being given the worship that could be given to God alone. Of all the startling things in early Christianity, this is the most remarkable of all. It was indeed under Constantine, in the fourth century, that the churches’ leaders defined in the terms of Greek philosophy what status this Jesus had in relation to God himself. But the instinct was there from the earliest decades: Jesus must be worshipped as God alone is worshipped.