Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Defense of the Gospel, Part 4

Question: Do you believe that someone needs to believe in the deity of Christ? If you do, how do you find that information in 1 Cor. 15:3ff?

Answer: Yes, I do believe that a person has to believe in the deity of Jesus in order to be saved. I see the truth of Jesus' deity set forth in the 1 Corinthians 15 passage in at least three ways:

1.) In the title "the Christ" (1 Cor. 15:3) - In 1 Corinthians 15:3 the apostle Paul uses the divine title as a name (cf. Matt. 16:16; Jn. 20:31).1 It is also significant that this passage assumes or presupposes the identity of Jesus as the Christ.2

2.) In the testimony "that He was raised" (1 Cor. 15:4) - In Romans 1:4 Paul emphasizes that Jesus "was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (cf. Acts 2:22-36)!

3.) In the time element "on the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4) - It is noteworthy that on numerous occasions Jesus predicted not only His resurrection, but more specifically the very time of His resurrection: on the third day (Matt. 12:38-41, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mk. 9:31, 10:34; Lk. 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 46; Jn. 2:13-22). When the apostle Peter strenuously objected to this and other gospel truths, Jesus said to him: "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's" (Matt. 16:21-23). Jesus' resurrection on the third day confirms that He is the Christ (the Messiah) promised in the Old Testament Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4; cf. Mat. 12:38-41; Lk. 18:31-33, 24:44-49; Jn. 2:13-22; Acts 10:40-43).3 Ambrose affirms: "Of all those whom God raised from the dead to life, there is not one that was raised on the third day but Jesus Christ; some rose before, and some after...but Christ takes the third day, which discovers him to be the Messiah".4

The Bible makes it clear that a person must believe the gospel in order to be saved (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:17-18, 15:1-5; Eph. 1:13; 2 Thess. 1:8-9, etc.) - no more and no less. If a person believes the gospel - and this gospel sets forth the deity of the man called Jesus, then when a person believes the gospel they are by extension also believing in the deity of Jesus. How much a person has to understand the deity of Jesus is another question, and I'm not completely sure other than to say that a person has to believe the gospel (which sets forth the deity of Jesus). A person has to believe in the deity of Jesus to that extent - and that's not very much! George Meisinger, the President of Chafer Theological Seminary, has said that a person might only understand that the gospel sets forth Jesus Christ as more than a man. Meisinger writes: "An unbeliever's understanding of 'Christ' and deity will be embryonic, perhaps not much more than 'Jesus is more than man thus able to save me!'"5 The point I'm making here is that the person believes the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-5), and from this core message (or some similar Scripture) has come to conclude that Jesus is more than a man. So the individual believes that Jesus Christ is more than a man who died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and was seen by others. With this understanding and belief this more-than-a-man person can only be the God-Man! Whether or not an individual puts it in those words seems irrelevant. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." The individual believes in the concept of Jesus' deity, regardless of whether they use the word "deity" (or "God") or not.

And so I would say that when a person believes the gospel, they are believing in the deity of Jesus (for the reasons I mentioned above), and they understand that concept as much as God requires for salvation at that point.

Continue on to "In Defense of the Gospel, Part 5".


1 Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 724.

2 I. Howard Marshall writes: "In 1 Corinthians 15:3 ff. Paul quotes an early piece of tradition concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The interesting point is that the statements in this passage are made about Christ, not about Jesus. The statement thus assumes that Jesus is the Christ, and therefore predicates of him various experiences which are regarded as being in accordance with the Scriptures. In other words, this piece of tradition presupposes that at an earlier stage the identification of Jesus with the Christ had been made, so that in 1 Corinthians 15:3 ff. it was possible to assume the equation of Jesus with the Christ." (I. Howard Marshall, "The Resurrection in the Acts of the Apostles," W. Ward Gasque and Ralph P. Martin, Editors, Apostolic History and the Gospel. Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce [Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1970], pp. 98-99.) The same equation between Jesus and Christ is also made in 1 Peter 1:11. (Ibid., p. 99, notes 34 and 37.)

4 Isaac Ambrose, Looking Unto Jesus, p. 423. Ambrose goes on to say of Jesus that "his rising on the third day was the accomplishment of prophecies, and a certain evidence that he was the Messiah indeed." (Ibid, p. 425.)

5 Meisinger, "The Gospel Paul Preached: A Church Age Model of Evangelistic Content," Chafer Theological Seminary Journal: p. 10. Meisinger's statement seems to hearken back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:6, 41, 42. Josh McDowell makes the same point in his classic book More Than A Carpenter: Jesus is More Than A Carpenter - He is God! Charlie Bing affirms: "The concept of 'Christ' [in 1 Cor. 15:3] may not have been entirely understood by the Corinthian readers, but the meaning of 'anointed' and His work of dying for sins certainly points to a special divine messenger." (Bing, "How To Share the Gospel Clearly," no page number). 

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