Is Jesus God?: The Synoptic Picture

Below are my notes for the video which you can use if you'd like. (Note: They were not intended to be comprehensive, they were just video notes! So there is plenty more to this argument, and there are plenty more references that could have been listed even for the arguments used. Also, I did not follow the notes to a 'T' while making the video. Cheers :-)

The Synoptic Picture
  1. Jesus is The Son of God
    1. First sentence of Mark
    2. Definite article = special son
      1. There are generic sons, but Jesus is never included in this generic grouping (Mt 5:45)
      2. Johannine thunderbolt shows Jesus’ special sonship (Mt 11:27/Lk 10:22)
      3. His Sonship is one that places him above all people and all angels (Mk 13:32)
  2. Transcends the heaven-earth divide
    1. Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-9)
    2. Heavenly hierarchy (Mk 13:32)
    3. Divine council
      1. Saw Satan fall from heaven (Lk 10:18)
      2. Knows disciples names are written in the book of heaven (Lk 10:20)
      3. Johannine thunderbolt (Mt 11:27/Lk 10:22)
      4. "Satan has asked to sift you like wheat" (Lk 22:31)
    4. Recognition from other spiritual beings
      1. Demons (Mk 1:24, Mk 3:11)
      2. God (Mk 1:11, Mk 9:7)
  3. Transcends the God-creation divide
    1. Jesus has own elect
      1. The disciples (Lk 10:20)
      2. Mark 13:27
      3. Johannine thunderbolt (Mt 11:27/Lk 10:22)
    2. Forgives sins (Mk 2:5)
    3. Sea miracles
      1. Mk 4:38-39/Psalm 107:25-29: For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
      2. Mk 6:45-52/LXX Job 9:8: walking on water while speaking “I Am”
    4. The name of Jesus
      1. Religious rites (Mt 18:20, 28:19)
      2. People Gather in his name (Mk 13:6 parallel to Ps 118:26)
    5. Sends prophets (Mt 23:34)
    6. Knows the hearts of men (Ps. 94:11)
  4. Miscellaneous
    1. Miracles in his own authority (Lk 7:14, Mt 8:2-3, Mt 9:28)
    2. Lord of the Sabbath (Mk 2:28)
    3. Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Lk 13:34, Mt 23:37)
    4. Mk 1:7 – Jesus much greater than John the Baptist (sandals)
    5. Mt 7:22 – Relationship with Jesus required for salvation
    6. Mt 13:24, 37-38 – parable of the weeds implies that Jesus is the owner of the world
    7. Mk 13:27 – Jesus sends out angels
    8. Mt 18:20, 28:20 – implies Jesus’ omnipresence
    9. Mt 28:19 – Trinity


  1. Thanks! I love notes. I would love to have you as my bible-school teacher. This is nicely organized material.

  2. Good to know that you like the notes! I've made them for every video, but then usually erased them right afterwards. I'll consider tossing them in with the blog more often :-)

  3. Every now and then you will find a scholar who argues such things. That's how NT scholarship works. In a field dominated by committed Christians some (a very few) will try and defend Jesus' pre-existence in the synoptics. However we might await the critical reviews by other scholars. Interestingly, Gathercloe did his PhD under Jimmy Dunn who would certainly reject his former students theses (as would most scholars).

    Pre-existence does not indicate divinity. We are told in Hebrews that Melchizedek was "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever" (7: 3).

  4. Nazam--

    The field is hardly "dominated by committed Christians", unless you're using the term in the most nominal of senses. Currently I'd say it's dominated by no one, though candidates are the likes of Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and Jimmy Dunn, the last of which could in good conscious be called a Christian (though the other two usurp the title).

    Before them NT scholarship has remained under the shadow of form criticism, most notably Bultmann but also Dibelius. Neither of these would be a "committed Christian" though Bultmann did consider himself a Lutheran. Schweitzer before them caused NT scholarship to turn in an incredibly unChristian direction, as did Strauss before him. And that covers about the past 150 years of NT scholarship. To call these dominant figures "committed Christians" is to ignore their personal theologies and ignore the way they shaped the field.

    If by "dominated" you are referring to the number of "committed Christians" in the field, then I would say unless you have access to some census that I missed, your point is without the force of evidence. If you do have access to a census, I would like to see it :-)

    Regardless, whether or not Gathercole has the consensus on his side is a rather crude way of determining the strength of his arguments. In fact, its entirely fallacious. I think his arguments for Jesus spanning the heaven-earth divide and the God-creation divide are spot on. The main point of his book, that Jesus' use of the phrase "I have come" indicates pre-existence, is somewhat dodgy, and that is why I did not use it in the video.

    And I have to disagree with you on one last point :-) Pre-existence does not necessitate divinity, sure. But it is a condition of it, and not a condition of a normal human in the Jewish context. Hebrews does not intend to portray Melchizedek as preexistent, it is simply contrasting him with the levitical order (which has a very clearly circumscribed history). Other than a simply being a poor exegesis of Hebrews 7, if you consider it outside the introductory lens of Hebrews 1 (which very clearly ascribes some level of deity to Jesus) then you're taking it out of context.

    I worry for you and pray for you, Nazam. I think you have the capacity to grasp these truths, and I hope you do in the future. Blessings.


  5. Nice video. Like Donna, I also greatly appreciate the inclusion of the notes.

    I think you sufficiently showed that Jesus' Sonship is special and different from that of others, but I have some minor objections to a couple of the citations. First is Mark 1:1; some ancient authorities don't have "the Son of God," and according to The Text of the New Testament, "[i]n general, the shorter reading is to be preferred, except where parablepsis arising from homoeoteleuton may have occurred or where the scribe may have omitted material that he deemed to be superfluous, harsh, or contrary to pious belief, liturgical usage, or ascetical practice" (303, emphasis mine). (I don't know which manuscripts omit "the Son of God," and I know you know more about NT scholarship than I do, so I'll let you comment on that.) The second is your point about Jesus' position on the list in Mark 13:32. The list is assumed to be an heirarchy because it is listed in the preconceived order a Trinitarian would put it in, but there isn't really any reason to think the list is going from lowest to highest. (I want to say the argument is circular, but I'm not sure.)

    Also, I think a lot, but perhaps not all, of your points about Jesus' transcendence of the heaven-earth divide can be accounted for by mere prophethood (such as Jesus knowing that Satan fell, that Satan asked to sift the disciples like wheat, knowing whose names were in the Book of Life, being recognized by demons and God). God could have informed him on those things--like he would for a prophet. Also, another objection I have about the demons recognizing Jesus is that demons also recognized Paul (Acts 19:15), and Paul obviously didn't transcend the heaven-earth divide.

    I'm not sure about the "miracles by his own authority" argument because the citations don't specifically say that he was doing it on his own. (And if you would allow me to bring John into the discussion, John 5:30 says that Jesus can't do anything on his own authority.)

    About Jesus having his own elect--isn't there somewhere in John (I can't find it, but I know it's there) where it says something like the Son has sheep because the Father gave them to him, and no one can take anything from the Father's hand?

    I haven't been so sure about the Lord of the Sabbath argument for quite some time. Jesus' reasoning behind concluding that he is Lord of the Sabbath is that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath." It kind of looks like he's arguing that he is Lord of the Sabbath because he is a man. Thoughts?

    Not that I'm denying that Mark 1:7 says that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist, but to interpret it as an indication of a major lordship status might be taking it too far. It's probably hyperbole, meant to emphasize that JB is lower in status than Jesus. Plus, "John's claim of abject unworthiness is an exaggeration typical of honor-shame societies" as Malina and Rohrbaugh say on page 146 of Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels.

    I think you took Matthew 13:24, 37-38 too far as well. Who else would sow a field but the owner? Jesus is emphasizing the action of the sowing, so it probably doesn't matter that the guy in the parable owned the field. Plus, since Jesus gives such an allegorical interpretation, doesn't that indicate that the explanation in verses 37-38 belongs to some of Jesus' later followers?

    And I think there needs to be a thunderbolt sound whenever you say "Johannine thunderbolt."

  6. GAP,

    There are some good objections here, but I think they can all be duly answered.

    Regarding Mark 1:1, there is plenty of controversy. Some think that the whole thing is a post-Markan fabrication, some would leave out the words "the Son of God" and yet others prefer to leave out only the definite article. Regardless, if you listen to me in the video, you'll note that I don't put the weight of the argument on 1.1 - I use it to introduce 1:11, 1:24, and 3:11. I have a thesis (one which has a strong precedent in Norman Perrin) that 1.2-3.12 was intended as a Christological introduction to Jesus. As such, even if the shorter reading of 1.1 is preferred, Jesus is still introduced in Mark's Gospel as the special Son of God.

    Regarding the Heavenly hierarchy, note what's going on. It's said that "no one knows." But then Jesus goes on and clarifies who all is included in this "no one". He explicitly names beings that we might expect to know about the end of times but actually do not, angels and the son. So here is the argument from the heavenly hierarchy in full force (in no particular order):

    1 - Jesus is listed above the angels (as discussed in the video)
    2 - Jesus is listed with the father and angels (heavenly beings)
    3 - Jesus is listed as one whom we might wrongly expect to know about the end of times (on account of #2).

    My point is that even if you disagree with #1, #3 is fairly obvious and it is predicated on #2 (which, I think, is also fairly obvious). This is all that is required to bolster the argument that Jesus transcends the heaven-earth divide in Mk 13:32.

    I see some flaws in your objections against Jesus' prophethood accounting for his H-E transcendence. The first is that Jesus didn't say "he knows Satan fell like lightning from heaven" he said he SAW Satan fall like lightning from heaven. This strongly argues against your objection.

    In addition, your assumption that Jesus might have been told these things by God seems to be a bare assertion; from what I know (though you may correct me if I'm wrong) Jewish prophets were not expected to know everything within the accounts about them simply by their virtue of being prophets. If they were to know something prophetic, we could expect them to have been given that information at some point within the account through an explicit act of prophesy. Here, Jesus is not shown as having received any such messages, nor does he indicate that his knowledge is in his capacity as a prophet. It just seems assumed that he has knowledge of the proceedings in heaven.

    Regarding the demon's knowledge of Paul, you missed the nuance of the argument. In Mark, the people have great difficulty establishing the identity of Jesus. No one can put his finger on who Jesus really is -- even when Peter identifies Jesus as the Christ in Mark 8, the verses which immediately follow show that Peter still doesn't understand what that means. But heavenly beings have no problem identifying Jesus whatsoever. That's the point: Jesus' identity is understood by spiritual beings and NOT by earthly beings, indicating his heavenly (as opposed to earthly) nature. For Paul, everyone knows who Paul is; Paul's identification by the demon emphasizes Paul's renown in the spiritual world, but not his preferred identification with it.

    (To be continued)

  7. (Continued)

    Miracles in Jesus' authority: If you contrast Jesus' miracles with OT miracles, you will see the difference. At some point in all the OT miracles (either during the miracle itself, or shortly before, or shortly after) an explicit request is made to God for the occurrence of the miracle. With Jesus, he says things like "I say to you" (emphasizing that he is the one with the authority) or "do you have faith that I can do this?" (emphasizing that he is the one with the capacity). I think it's clear enough within the context of the Gospels, but if you need to contrast with OT prophecies, please do.

    And I do not think this is an appropriate place to bring John into the equation if for no other reason than John clearly shows Jesus bridging the H-E divide and the G-C divide :-) In other words, even if you find a loophole around the "authority" issue (though I don't think so), the endgame of showing Jesus' deity is a non-issue. Virtually all scholars admit the divine presentation of Jesus in John (though to different degrees of deity.)

    Regarding the SoM being Lord of the Sabbath, you have some precedent for your opinion among the previous generation of scholars. I advise you, however, to read the currently acclaimed commentaries on Mark. Collins and Marcus both agree (as do many current Mark scholars) that Jesus is pointing specifically to his authority as a Davidic successor in order to claim his right over the Sabbath. It's not that he's human, it's that he is the Davidic Messiah (who's being redefined for the audience throughout the course of Mark). On a more basic level, if your argument were correct, the text ought to read something like "therefore, man is lord of the sabbath." Saying "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" within the Synoptic context of Son of Man specifically ascribes the Lordship to Jesus and no one else.

    If you wish to see Mk 1:7 as hyperbole, that is fine. I had that argument listed under the minor points for a reason :-) I think it lends weight to my argument, though is certainly not enough if standing alone.

    Regarding the parable of the weeds, there are plenty who can sow fields other than the owner! Workers or sons of the owner could sow the field just fine, and we see these characters employed in the parable of the vineyard. But here again, this argument simply lends weight to the preceding, stronger arguments. What concerns me here is that you are confusing the historical Jesus enterprise with Synoptic exegesis; we have been engaged in the latter, though it appears you might think we're doing the former. Be careful not to conflate the two. (Besides, I think the principle that 'if Jesus explains a parable, it indicates evolution at the hands of his followers' is a lame one... can we truly expect the historical Jesus to never have explained his parables to those who asked, especially his disciples who would then have to share these parables with others?)

    I hope these thoughts help clarify and bolster my arguments for you. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and feedback.

  8. Nabeel, thanks for video and the notes! Its a lot of information at once and they have been helping me digest all of the points you've been making.

    You helped me answer a question that I've been recently asked regarding "how can Jesus be God if he's praying to himself?" I must admit I use to ask the same question.

    But I still don't understand why Jesus doesn't know the day or the hour of his return if Jesus and the Father are one? Its been a very hard question for me to answer and any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    Thanks again Nabeel!

  9. Michael --

    Thanks for the feedback. I think Jesus did not know the day or hour because as a part of the kenosis, he actually emptied himself of omniscience. This, I think, is why he did not know advanced calculus as a baby, etc. :-)

    There are many viable answers out there, and I'm always up to revision, but this is where I stand for now. Cheers.

  10. Thanks for the helpful response; it cleared up a lot. I'll be sure to continue studying up on this Christology stuff.

    God bless!

  11. Thanks for the feedback, I've heard of the word kenosis before but I'll have to take some time reading and understand more about this.. very interesting!

  12. Hi Nabeel. This may be a little off topic but I hope you can help out. I myself am a Christian living in the U.K. A few months ago I was flicking through the channels of sky tv when I came across an islam channel. There was a show on which I think was called life of the Prophets, which consisted of the host, a man called Yusuf Estes and a group of muslim children in which he was addressing.

    The topic was about the life of Jesus according to the quran. I noticed how Yusuf Estes conveniently changed some words to "water things down for the children" for example he said that "allah is the best of planners " when I think the words usually used is "allah is the best of decievers".
    Anyway the reason for this post is concerning what he said later in the show,

    Yusuf Estes insinuated to the children that Jesus taught jihad, he used Luke22:36 as an example. Yusuf then went on to claim that Jesus told his disciples not to fight back in the garden of Gethsemane because they were out numbered.

    To be honest I remember felling slightly ill at this comment particularly because he was teaching this to children.

    I believe Yusuf Estes was taking things out of context to promote islamic beliefs . (as we all know that Jesus spoke metaphoricaly most of the time.)

    So Nabeel could you please tell us your opinion on Luke22:36 ?

    I would also like to say that I think you are doing a fantastic job as a Christian apologist and may God bless you and your loved ones in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord.

    Thank you for your time.

  13. TI--

    I haven't done extensive studying of commentaries or exegesis on this verse, but from the sound of it, neither has Yusuf :-) I'll give my interpretation here:

    Jesus is telling his disciples to be ready for travel to minister the Gospel. Thus the statement about the knapsack and the moneybag. We can't interpret the verse about the sword without keeping it in the context of the knapsack and moneybag. That obviously invalidates this verse as being about Jihad.

    Of course, I think it's ironic that Yusuf is making the same mistake the disciples made immediately after this verse. They think Jesus is actually talking about buying swords, and not speaking in parable... this humor is akin to the same misunderstanding that arose from Jesus saying to beware the leaven of the pharisees (Mt 16:11). Jesus isn't actually talking about leaven in that verse, and Jesus isn't actually talking about swords in Lk 22:36. The context clarifies this for us.

    Don't forget, when traveling in those days there was no "highway patrol" that kept people safe. There were highway robbers that beat and killed travelers, as the parable of the good samaritan tells us. Thus, a sword was important for traveling (as was a knapsack and a moneybag... this verse is clearly not about jihad).

    This also fits the fact that Luke often depicts Jesus' teachings around travel... note some scenes that are specific to Luke: the good samaritan, the prodigal son, and the road to emmaus. These all involve travel; given Luke's predilection for travel imagery, it's quite possible that he's using it here, too.

    That's my take. I hope that helps!

  14. Thanks Nabeel for the comment . It helped alot.

    I live in N.Ireland and these sort of topics on islam and christianity rarely are brought up.I will be telling all my friends about your website. Great work.

    God Bless you in Jesus name.

    just watched the bbc program on the life of Muhammad, David Wood featured in it incase you havent seen it.