3 Authentic Historical Claims Jesus Christ Made About His Deity

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Image Credit: TabletMag, Adam Kirsch, 2013.

There are a few important criteria for establishing a high probability for a historical event or saying. Historians make use of several of them such as early and independent attestation, and the criterion of embarrassment.

Early and independent attestation is when a saying/event (S) appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which S is alleged to have occurred and which depend neither upon each other nor a common source. The criterion of embarrassment is when S is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information for S. If S passes one or more of these criteria then it is deemed historically likely to have occurred. How might one view some of Christ’s statements given this criteria?

This has become a necessary question because there scholarly is doubt or suspicion regarding certain words/sentences attributed to Christ within some of the gospel accounts. After all, Christ did not write anything himself, and what he said and did is conveyed by other authors. Although most would associated them on the fringe of historical scholarship, the Jesus Seminar, for example, sparked controversy and made headlines when they begun printing certain statements of Jesus in different colours. Those in red were deemed to be authentic, passages that sounded like Christ in pink, passages that were dubiously uttered by Christ in gray, and inauthentic passages in black. Their conclusion was that less than 20% of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were authentic, which leads one to question the other 80%. The Jesus Seminar and their methods of exegesis and interpretation, especially pertaining to their colour coding system, have been heavily criticized elsewhere by scholars across the board (1). However, it does highlight the need to approach Christ’s sayings in a critical way.

The majority of scholars do believe that among the historically authentic words of Jesus, there are claims that reveal his divine self-understanding (and, one might add, that even those within the Jesus Seminar accept these sayings). In other words, several authentic sayings of Jesus reveal that he saw himself as the unique, divine Son of God (2). Here Christ’s teaching on the Kingdom of God would be a good example for most scholars recognize that this teaching, that of the coming of God’s Kingdom or reign, stood at the heart of the Jesus’ ministry (3).

1. The parable of the wicked tenants (synoptics)

Christ’s radical self-understanding is arguably best revealed in his parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard. This parable is attested in the synoptics (Mark 12:1-12; Mat. 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19). Matthew and Luke likely derived the parable from Mark. Mark’s gospel provides early attestation of the parable. Even skeptical scholars accept this as a genuine parable of Christ’s given that it is also attested to within the later 2nd century Gospel of Thomas (sayings 65–66).

The parable is rife with symbolism (4). According to the parable, the owner of the vineyard sends some servants to the tenants of the vineyard to collect its fruit. The vineyard symbolizes Israel, the owner is God, the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and the servants are prophets send by God. The tenants beat and reject the owner’s servants. Finally, the owner says, “I will send my only, beloved son. They will listen to my son.” But instead, the tenants kill the son because he is the heir to the vineyard.

The parable is crucial regarding Christ’s mission and his self-understanding. He evidently thought of himself as God’s special son, distinct from all the prophets, God’s final messenger, and even the heir to Israel.

2. “No one knows the Son except the Father” (Matthew 11:27)

Consider Christ’s statement in Matthew 11:27 that,

“All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Parallel = Luke 10:22).

There is are two reasons that render this saying likely to be genuine and authentic. Firstly, the saying satisfies early attestation given that it comes to us from an old source that was shared by both Matthew and Luke. This source is known as Q, or hypothetical Q. It is defined as hypothetical because it no longer exists. However, the majority of New Testament scholars believe it once did. Its existence was very likely based on the verbatim wording found in Matthew and Luke, particularly when they record the same events and words of Jesus.

The other reason is the criterion of embarrassment. As noted, this says that it is very unlikely that a gospel author would have simply included a saying/event that was embarrassing to their early movement if that saying/event had not actually occurred. In this case it is unlikely the early church invented this saying given that it essentially says that the Son is unknowable (“no one knows the Son except the Father”). However, for the church post-Christ’s resurrection the message is that we can know the Son. This saying cannot therefore be chalked down to a product of later Church theology.

Given that this saying passes the criteria of early attestation and embarrassment, it is reasonable to believe that Christ said it. But what does it tell us about his self-concept? Christ saw himself as the exclusive and absolute Son of God and the only revelation of God to mankind.

3. “But of that day or that hour no man knows…” (Mark 13:32)

In Mark 13.32 we find Christ teaching about the date of his second coming,

“But of that day or that hour no man knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (also see Matthew 24:36).

This saying also satisfies the criterion of embarrassment, and is therefore more likely to be an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. The early church and our gospel authors, for example, viewed Christ as divine and God incarnate. It is thus unlikely that they would have invented a saying suggesting a limited knowledge or ignorance on his part. Here we discover that Christ did not know the time of his return.

What does it tell us about Christ’s self-concept? First, it reveals his understanding of himself to be the one Son of God. Second, it also presents the reader with an ascending scale of importance from men to angels to the Son to the Father. On this scale Jesus transcends any human or angelic being.

Concluding Remarks

From a theological perspective these sayings of Christ would strike many as significant, especially concerning Christ’s view of himself. Historically, if if one were to grant that Christ only said 20% of the words attributed to him, one can still be confident that he or she has his own genuine words regarding his radical self-understanding in these three sayings. In other words, Christ’s radical self-understanding of his divine nature and mission was not attributed to him at a later stage by the early church, nor is it a product of mythological embellishment.


1. For criticisms see Allison, D. 1998. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet; Wilkins, M. & Moreland, J. 1995. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus; Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God; Witherington, B. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth.

2. Craig, W. The Evidence for Jesus. Available.

3. Craig, W. Ibid.

4. Brown, R, et al. 1990. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. p. 621; Kilgallen, J. 1989. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. p. 226.


  1. None of the passages have Jesus claiming he is literally God. The term Son could also be shorthand for Son of Man. You should follow the latest studies of Enoch that suggest a final judge figure linked to God, a Son of Man figure, may have influenced early Christianity. Check out this list of recent works on Enoch’s probable influence on early Christianity. https://www.amazon.com/registry/wishlist/9VOKAZYYXO5Z/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_it_wl_o_ljeqAbEXZP6G8

    Also, check out the Melchizedek scroll among the DSS for another final judge figure.

    A parable rife with symbolism proves only what you interpret it to mean.
    Son and Father passages are questionable on the grounds of arising via later orthodoxy. Also, in the passage where the Son does not know something, that passage was cited by Arians.

    Lastly, how to determine authenticity is hotly debated today among historical Jesus scholars, as is the existence of Q. https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/06/how-reliable-are-criteria-for.html

    Lastly, there are more questions than answers period when it comes to New Testament studies. https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/06/christianity-raises-as-many.html

  2. “A parable rife with symbolism proves only what you interpret it to mean.”

    -This assumes that the parable can in no way convey a clear message. I think that is a weak critique. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants taught by Jesus, for instance, is quite obvious in its symbolism, especially concerning Jesus’ self-understanding.

    It’s not impossible that the terms “Son” and “Father” are products of later orthodoxy, but I argued why that is probably not the case.

    The existence & authenticity of Q is widely accepted as far as I know having done three years of NT Studies: https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/06/05/jesus-early-miracles-in-q-document/

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