THE OMNIPOTENCE ARGUMENT
There are many good reasons to believe that Jesus is NOT God. One such good reason is that Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent (all-powerful):
1. Something is God ONLY IF it is eternally omnipotent.
2. Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent.
3. Jesus was NOT God.
PREMISE (1) IS TRUE
Premise (1) is based on a definition of “God” that would be acceptable to most Christian philosophers and theologians:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:
- X is the creator of the universe, and
- X is a bodiless person, and
- X is eternally omnipotent, and
- X is eternally omniscient, and
- X is eternally perfectly good.
There is a powerful motivation for Christian philosophers and theologians to insist that God is eternally omnipotent (eternally all-powerful). If God was less than eternally omnipotent, then God would not be able to guarantee eternal life to Christian believers.
Something could happen in the future that threatens the existence of some or all Christian believers but this event could be too powerful for God to overcome it and prevent it from destroying some or all Christian believers if God was less than omnipotent. In order for God to be able to guarantee eternal life to Christian believers, God must be powerful enough to overcome any possible threat to the existence of Christian believers.
Furthermore, it is NOT sufficient for God to be omnipotent for a century or even ten centuries. If at some point in the future, God ceases to be omnipotent, then God at that point would no longer be powerful enough to overcome any possible threat to the existence of Christian believers. So, God not only needs to be omnipotent now, and omnipotent for the next century, but God must be eternally omnipotent in order to be able to eternally protect the existence of Christian believers. Therefore, God would be able to guarantee eternal life to Christians ONLY IF God is eternally omnipotent.
Christians believe that God is able to guarantee eternal life to Christian believers, and this implies that God is eternally omnipotent.
Another reason why Christians believe that God is omnipotent or all-powerful is that the Bible teaches that God is all-powerful:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.Genesis 17:1, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
“Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.Jeremiah 32:17, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Jesus himself taught that God was all-powerful:
But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”Matthew 19:26, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
So, in order to deny that God is omnipotent or all-powerful, one must deny the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and deny the inspiration and authority of the teachings of Jesus. Christians accept the inspiration and authority of the Bible and of the teachings of Jesus, so most Christians believe that God is omnipotent or all-powerful.
To the extent that being omnipotent is a necessary condition for being God, the loss of omnipotence by a person who was previously omnipotent implies that that person is no longer God (if he/she was previously God). But Christians don’t believe that God can CEASE to exist, so in order for God to be a being who exists eternally, God must be eternally omnipotent. Thus, someone who ceases to be omnipotent was never God in the first place. A person cannot be temporarily omnipotent and be God temporarily. To be God, a person must exist eternally and be omnipotent eternally.
PREMISE (2) IS TRUE
Before I argue that Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent, I need to examine the arguments of Christian apologists for the belief that Jesus was eternally omnipotent. If their arguments FAIL, then it will be appropriate to consider arguments against this belief about Jesus.
Robert Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski published a case for the deity of Jesus called Putting Jesus in His Place (Kregel Publications, 2007; herafter: PJIHP). One argument in that case is that Jesus was omnipotent:
The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is omnipotent.(PJIHP, p.114)
However, people who doubt or disbelieve that Jesus was God, don’t usually believe that the New Testament was inspired by God and is 100% correct about every claim it makes.
I, for example, believe that there is no God, no angels, no demons, and that miracles do not occur. I believe that much of the content of the Gospels is fictional. So, my view of the New Testament is that it makes many false historical and theological claims. Skeptics and doubters are not going to be persuaded to believe the fantastical claim that some Jewish peasant who lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago was omnipotent, just because some Christian author wrote a book or letter in the first century that CLAIMS that this was so.
Since the Bible contains many absurd and clearly false claims, skeptics are justified in rejecting such an argument based on an appeal to the supposed inspiration and authority of the Bible.
Bowman and Komoszewski reference various NT passages as evidence of the omnipotence of Jesus:
- Jesus’ alleged birth to a virgin (Chapter 1 of Luke)
- Jesus’ alleged miracle of feeding thousands of people with a few fishes and a few loaves of bread (Chapter 14 of Matthew, and Chapter 6 of John)
- Jesus’ alleged prediction that he would rise from the dead (Chapter 2 and 10 of John)
- God’s power is shown in the resurrection of Jesus, according to Paul (Chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians and Chapter 1 of Ephesians)
- After his resurrection, Jesus was given supreme authority over all creation, according to Paul (Chapter 1 of Ephesians and Chapter 2 of Colossians)
- The risen Jesus’ allegedly claims to have been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Chapter 28 of Matthew)
(PJIHP, p. 114-115)
First of all, even if we accept all of these claims made by New Testament authors, this can all be viewed merely as evidence that God is omnipotent, not that Jesus was omnipotent. God (allegedly) caused the virgin birth of Jesus. God (allegedly) caused the miraculous feeding of thousands of people, God (allegedly) caused Jesus to rise from the dead. Finally, God (allegedly) put Jesus in charge of the universe, presumably with God’s assistance (e.g. Jesus could command for the universe to cease to exist, and God, who is omnipotent, could make that happen). None of the above claims clearly imply that Jesus was omnipotent.
What about Moses? What about Elijah? They performed miracles, according to the Bible. What about Jesus’ disciples? They too performed miracles, according to the Bible. Was Moses omnipotent? NO. Was Elijah omnipotent? NEGATIVE. Were Jesus’ disciples omnipotent? NOPE. Was Moses God? NO. Was Elijah God? NEGATIVE. Were Jesus’ disciples God? NOPE.
When other people (allegedly) perform miracles, Bowman and Komoszewski attribute the miracles to GOD and to God’s omnipotence. They don’t conclude that Moses or Elijah or Jesus’ disciples were omnipotent. The same logic applies to Jesus.
Furthermore, some of these claims have to do with Jesus’ status AFTER his (alleged) resurrection. So, at best those claims only indicate that Jesus BECAME omnipotent at one point in time. But in order to be God, one must be ETERNALLY OMNIPOTENT. Becoming omnipotent at some point in time means that one was NOT eternally omnipotent, and thus NOT God.
Finally, there are good reasons to doubt the miracle stories in the New Testament. Most NT scholars view the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke as legends. The Gospels were written by Christian believers who were NOT eyewitnesses to the life and ministry and death of Jesus. They were written decades after the events they describe. The accounts they give of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death contradict each other on many points large and small.
There are good reasons to doubt the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ alleged miracles, including his alleged resurrection from the dead. So, skeptics and doubters are completely reasonable in doubting the historical reliability of the New Testament.
We doubt the virgin birth stories. We doubt the miracle stories. We doubt the stories about the death and resurrection of Jesus. None of the above claims found in the NT are FACTS. All of these claims are subject to reasonable doubt. To assume that the fantastic and implausible miracle claims of the NT must be TRUE is to beg the question against a skeptical view of the NT.
So, the basic premises of the argument by Bowman and Komoszewski are DUBIOUS, and the inferences they make from those premises are INVALID. Thus, their argument for the omnipotence of Jesus is clearly UNSOUND and it FAILS.
Josh McDowell and Bart Larson published a case for the deity of Jesus called Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity (Here’s Life Publishers, 1983; hereafter: JBDD). One of their arguments for the deity of Jesus is that Jesus was omnipotent. They defend this view by quoting from John Walvoord:
The evidence for the omnipotence of Christ is as decisive as proof for other attributes. Sometimes it takes the form of physical power, but more often it refers to authority over creation. Christ has the power to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6), all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18), power over nature (Luke 8:25), power over His own life (John 10:18), power to give eternal life to others (John 17:2), power to heal physically, as witnessed by His many miracles, as well as power to cast out demons (Mark 1:29-34), and power to transform the body (Phil. 3:21). By virtue of His resurrection “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him” (Heb. 7:25)…(JBDD, p.54-55)
This argument for the omnipotence of Jesus involves the same problems as the argument made above by Bowman and Komoszewski. Whatever power or authority Jesus might have had can reasonably be viewed as belonging to God and as evidence of God’s omnipotence, not as evidence of Jesus being omnipotent.
Walvoord refers to Jesus’ “many miracles”, but Moses also performed miracles, as did the disciples of Jesus, according to the Bible, but that does not show that Moses was God, nor that any of the disciples of Jesus were God.
Furthermore, Jesus’ alleged miracles, his alleged power over demons, and his alleged resurrection are all based on the dubious assumption of the historical reliability of the NT. But there are good reasons to doubt the historical reliability of the NT, so the miraculous and supernatural claims that are the basis for this argument are dubious and those premises beg the question against a skeptical point of view. Thus, this argument for the omnipotence of Jesus FAILS, just like the previous argument by Bowman and Komoszewski.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST JESUS BEING ETERNALLY OMNIPOTENT
One reason why I believe that Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent is that I believe Jesus was NOT eternal:
4. Jesus was NOT eternal.
5. IF Jesus was NOT eternal, THEN Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent.
2. Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent.
The logic of this argument is VALID; it is a standard modus ponens inference.
Premise (5) is clearly TRUE; it is a self-evident analytic statement. Something cannot be eternally omnipotent unless it is eternal. If there is some point in time in which it did not exist, then it was NOT omnipotent at that point in time, and thus cannot be eternally omnipotent.
So, the only point of possible disagreement is about whether premise (4) is true or false.
Although I cannot absolutely prove that Jesus was NOT eternal, I can provide an argument that gives us a good reason to believe that Jesus was NOT eternal:
6. Jesus believed that Adam (in the book of Genesis) was the first human.
7. IF Jesus believed that Adam (in the book of Genesis) was the first human, THEN Jesus was NOT eternal.
4. Jesus was NOT eternal.
The logic of this argument is VALID; it is a standard modus ponens inference.
Neither premise (6) nor premise (7) are self-evident or obvious truths. However, there are good reasons to believe both premises.
Did Jesus believe that Adam (in the book of Genesis) was the first human? That is what virtually all devout Jews believed two thousand years ago, so that is presumably what Jesus believed. Furthermore, according to the Gospels, Jesus said things that indicate that is what he believed:
3 Some Pharisees came to him [Jesus], and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”Matthew 19:3-6, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Jesus quotes here from Chapter 2 of the book of Genesis. That chapter tells how God created the first man, named Adam, and the first woman, named Eve. According to Genesis, the first human beings did not evolve from other species of animals but were created directly by God about 6,000 years ago. Jesus quotes from Chapter 2 of Genesis as if the story of God creating Adam and Eve was an actual historical event. Jesus shows no awareness that human beings evolved from other species of animals or that human beings have existed on this planet for about 300,000 years, or that life has existed on this planet for over a billion years. Therefore, we may reasonably conclude that premise (6) is true.
If Jesus existed one billion years ago, then he would have been aware of the evolution of complex macroscopic organisms from simple microscopic organisms, and if he existed 6 million years ago, then he would have been aware of the evolution of human beings from primates. But in accepting the creation story found in Genesis as historical fact, Jesus provides us with powerful evidence that he did NOT exist a billion years ago and that he did NOT exist six million years ago. His ignorance of evolution and of the millions of years that it took for humans to evolve from primates and his ignorance of the fact that humans have existed on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years gives us very good reason to believe that he has NOT existed eternally. Therefore, we may reasonably conclude that premise (7) is true.
Of course, it is possible that Jesus existed eternally, but when he was born as a human being, his previous knowledge of the actual history of life on this planet vanished, so that he became just another ignorant first-century Jewish peasant who believed the book of Genesis to contain the actual history of life on earth.
But in that case, Jesus (as a human being) had false beliefs about the history of life on the earth, and thus Jesus was NOT omniscient (once he was born as a human). This objection to my argument will not help a Christian believer, because this would involve the implication that Jesus was NOT omniscient (all-knowing), and thus NOT God. To use this objection against my argument, a Christian would sacrifice the omniscience of Jesus to save the omnipotence of Jesus, but this would imply that Jesus was NOT God.
Another way that a Christian might try to wiggle out of this problem is to claim that Jesus, like modern liberal Christians, did NOT view the book of Genesis as providing actual historical information about the past, but as a collection of ancient myths and legends that is not to be taken literally. This seems a somewhat implausible claim just in view of the way Jesus used the quote from Genesis to support his views against divorce, but there are other references to Genesis by Jesus, and taken together they make this view of Jesus VERY implausible.
Jesus appears to take various figures in the book of Genesis as being actual historical people:
- Adam and Eve in Genesis Chapter 2 (Matthew 19:3-6 & Mark 10:2-9)
- Abel, son of Adam and Eve, in Genesis Chapter 4 (Matthew 23:34-36 & Luke 11:50-52)
- Noah, builder of the ark, in Genesis Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 (Matthew 24:37-39 & Luke 17:26-27)
- Lot, who fled Sodom and Gomorra, in Genesis Chapters 12, 13, 14, and 19 (Luke 17:26-27)
- Abraham – Genesis Chapters 17-25, Isaac – Genesis Chapters 21-28 & 35, and Jacob –Genesis Chapters 25, 27-35, 37, 42, 45-49 (Matthew 8:10-11 & Luke 13:27-29)
So, it is not just the story of Adam and Eve that Jesus took seriously as historical, but ALL of the figures and stories of the book of Genesis.
There is no evidence for the view that Jesus thought the book of Genesis was filled with unhistorical myths and legends. There is no evidence for the view that Jesus believed the universe to be billions of years old. There is no evidence for the view that Jesus believed life on Earth to be more than a billion years old. There is no evidence for the view that Jesus believed that humans existed on Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no evidence for the view that Jesus believed that the various kinds of animals evolved from simple microscopic organisms. There is no evidence for the view that Jesus believed that humans evolved from primates.
All of the evidence we have points to the view that Jesus, like his fellow first-century Jews, believed that humans began to exist a few thousand years before his time, that God created each species of animals a few thousand years before his time, and that God created the first humans a few thousand years before his time. In short, Jesus had a MISTAKEN pre-scientific Jewish worldview. Jesus believed that Adam (in the book of Genesis) was the first human. This is powerful evidence that Jesus was NOT eternal because Jesus was unaware of the billion-year history of life on planet Earth, including the evolution of human beings from primates. If Jesus was NOT eternal, then he was clearly NOT eternally omnipotent.
According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was unable to perform more than a few miracles in his hometown:
1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.Mark 6:1-6, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
If Jesus was omnipotent at the time he visited his hometown, then he would have been able to perform ANY MIRACLE that he wished to perform no matter how little faith people had in that town:
8. It was NOT the case that Jesus was able to perform any miracle that he wished in his hometown.
9. IF it was NOT the case that Jesus was able to perform any miracle that he wished in his hometown, THEN Jesus was NOT omnipotent at the time he visited his hometown.
10. IF Jesus was NOT omnipotent at the time his visited his hometown, then Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent.
2. Jesus was NOT eternally omnipotent.
Premise (8) is supported by the Gospel of Mark (6:1-6). Premise (9) is a self-evident analytic truth. Premise (10) is a self-evident analytic truth. This argument is logically VALID, so this is another SOUND argument against Jesus being eternally omnipotent.