Is Jesus Truly God?
Greg Lanier, Is Jesus Truly God? How the Bible Teaches the Divinity of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020). Pp. 144. $16.99, paper.
The biblical teaching on Christ's divinity comes not from a handful of proof texts, but from a multifaceted portrait of the preexistent, authoritative, glorious Son of God. This is instructive and can be reassuring in the face of challenges to the biblical teaching on the Trinity. In his helpful volume, Greg Lanier wants to help readers understand how the New Testament teaches the divinity of Jesus, and how the creeds of the church are consistent with biblical teaching.
Written for a popular audience, the book moves swiftly and covers this question using a variety of lenses. Chapter 1 addresses the preexistence of the Son, and the appearances of the Son in the Old Testament. Christ has come from heaven, and he already spoke in the OT. This chapter may be the newest to readers, as he discusses concepts such christophanies in the Old Testament and prosopological exegesis. This latter term, which refers to conversations between divine persons speaking in Old Testament texts (and thus supports the preexistence of the Son) is not as commonly covered in books on biblical Christology, though the concept has long been recognized, and has been growing in popularity in biblical studies for the past decade or so.
Chapter 2 covers the Father-Son relationship, including the unity of the Father and Son. Chapter 3 looks at Christ as the Lord, along with the implications this has for a reading of the Old Testament where texts about YHWH are applied to Jesus. Not only are divine prerogatives assigned to Jesus, but so are divine metaphors. Chapter 4 considers early Christian worship of Jesus, and chapter 5 considers the Trinitarian dimensions of the New Testament. Chapter 6 looks at possible texts where “God” (theos) is used for Jesus. Lanier does not overstate the evidence, but finds solid evidence for seven texts that identify Jesus as God. He is more reserved in texts like Acts 20:28 and Romans 9:5, and in texts that feature textual variants (e.g. John 1:18, 1 Timothy 3:16). Readers will be rewarded for not skipping the conclusion, where Lanier covers some of the big-hitting christological texts of the New Testament, including Philippians 2:6–11 and Colossians 1:15–20.
Lanier’s book will serve its readers well. He covers some well-trod ground in new ways, showing the biblical logic for the divinity of Jesus while not neglecting his humanity. He is conversant with recent, relevant secondary scholarship, and is also familiar with key primary sources—both with ancient Jewish sources and early Christian sources that post-date the NT. Lanier’s discussion does not repeat, but reflects the common theological teaching that the Son shares the same name, attributes, works, and worship that are proper only to God (cf. WLC 11). He also shows an awareness of the complexities of difficult texts, and untangles the options for readers in a way that is accessible.
This is a concise and trustworthy study that will make a fine resource for students, lay readers, and even graduate students wanting a primer on some of the key texts and issues. It is primarily exegetical, but includes a healthy spattering historical information as well. The book is similar in interest to works such as Robert Bowman and Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, and perhaps even to the late Larry Hurtado, Honoring the Son: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice. The former is more exegetical and thematic, whereas the latter is more historical. Lanier provides his own, distinctive discussions, but covers similar terrain.
There are a few places where I suspect some readers will find a reference or comment they would have like explained further (e.g., Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Q, Johannine Comma). Eternal begetting is introduced in chapter 1, but only defined in chapter 2. Given how strange this topic can be at first, probably more explanation would have been useful here as well—but admittedly that would have veered the book further into systematic theology. On a related note, I wonder if the phrase “Johannine Thunderbolt” for Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 11 / Luke 10 is the best choice. Though surely it’s a memorable phrase that catches students’ attention, and though Lanier capably argues for its authenticity, the term itself derives from those who posit too much discontinuity between John and the Synoptics. I would also clarify that some psalms may be about Jesus and David (p. 33).
Yet these are not detrimental to the book’s argument. Reformed readers will find much to like in Is Jesus Truly God? This book should help many understand what the New Testament does (and does not) say about Jesus’s divinity, and how it does so. Each of the chapters provides a starting point for further research, and alerts readers to key texts (including some they may have missed). The book is stronger for its conciseness; the length is just about right for what it aims to do. Many books are longer; fewer are as compact with as much helpful information. Even intermediate and advanced students will find new food for thought here and be reminded of just how strong is the witness of Scripture that points us to our divine Savior. This is central to redemption.
Brandon Crowe (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is Associate Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary and editor for the Westminster Theological Journal. Brandon's academic interests include biblical theology, the Gospels (especially the Gospel of Matthew), the General Epistles, and the early church.
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