It is my opinion that the demand or challenge to point to explicit deity claims by Jesus in the Bible began in very recent times—possibly not until the 20th century, by groups that denied his deity. If this challenge didn't begin in the last century, then it definitely must have gained popularity recently because it seems to have become a focal point among recent Christian apologists.

Is there any evidence for such a trend at any particular time or place, such as in the United States in the 20th century?

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    Are you asking when people who deny Christ's deity started saying "Show me where Jesus says he is is God" instead of saying "Jesus never said he was God"? That's just a rhetorical style and nothing to do with Christianity or apologetics. In (very) recent years people have started saying "Show me proof that..." instead of "I don't believe that..." in all sorts of fields. Commented Apr 13 at 10:46
  • It has to be in response to the American Unitarian sects. I have seen quotes admitting that in recent decades or century, there has been an enormous and unnecessary amount of work spent on proving the deity of Christ. I cant find that quote now.
    – Michael16
    Commented Apr 13 at 12:22
  • @DJClayworth I don't think the question is merely rhetorical. To the OP: As I understand it, your question is not about proving the deity of Christ, but about the debate as to whether Jesus claims deity for himself. Specifically, the question is about when certain groups of people started saying that Jesus did not claim deity for himself, thus igniting that debate, or about when that debate heated up. Please correct me if I am wrong. I suspect it goes back farther than the Unitarians, but they would be a good place to start. Commented May 8 at 18:09
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    @LeeWoofenden The OP has expressed an opinion leading to the Q, but if his opinion is wrong, then answers ought to be able to open that point up, for consideration. The OP said, "possibly not until the 20th century" but then switches from "origins" to "a trend" developing, though I never thought he was trying to limit such trends to the United States. The confusion in the Q, however, should not prevent anyone showing the history of "explicit claims" (by any group) disagreeing with Jesus' own claims. It is the history of developments with this matter that gives best answers.
    – Anne
    Commented May 10 at 9:30
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    @Anne Yes. I'm just clarifying the distinction between the debate as to whether Jesus is divine, which is not what the Q is about, and the debate as to whether Jesus claims to be divine, which is what the Q is about. Commented May 11 at 13:26

3 Answers 3


Given that Jesus spoke words himself that showed he was claiming full deity with God the Father, and those words are in the New Testament, the first emergence of people's objections to that came right at that time, before he was crucified. John's gospel is particularly full of what Jesus said, and the different reactions. Many religious leaders were so offended at Jesus' claims about himself that they sought his death. They kept demanding he prove his claims, but could not understand his answers.

Once the apostles saw, heard and touched the resurrected Christ, any doubts (such as Thomas had - see John 20:24-31) were dispelled. Thereafter, right into the second century, there is no record of some people making the demand you ask about. Indeed, the early church fathers wrote about the deity of Christ, increasingly so to counteract some who claimed Jesus was only 'a god', or the highest angel, or otherwise not to be worshipped as God. This disbelief has never gone away, being found in various groups in every century thereafter.

However, the question seems to want to know of demands of modern groups for proof that Jesus claimed to be God. Yes, Unitarianism is a modern objector to Christ's full deity, which can be found on many web-sites effectively demanding explicit deity claims by Jesus himself. It emerged from a group of Spanish and Italian Humanists, also from some extreme Anabaptists, who queried the doctrine of God as Father, Son and Spirit, of the divinity of Christ, and his atonement for the sins of the world. Thus, its origins came shortly after the Reformation. Groups began to be established from 1565 (in Poland). The church founded in Transylvania first used the name 'Unitarians' (circa 1570). The first English church was established in 1774. The first Unitarian congregation in America was in Boston, 1785. Today, some Unitarians espouse a non-theistic form of religious humanism, so it is unlikely you would find them demanding proof of what you ask. But others might. As you can see, there is such a long history of their denial of the deity of Christ, getting quotes you are after would be like looking for a needle in a very large haystack. If you ask your question explicitly addressed to Unitarians, they might be able to answer.

Consider also putting that question to modern day supporters of Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). He claimed to have had three direct disclosures of Christ (between 1743 to 1745), resulting in some literature that rejected the Trinity doctrine and the Atonement doctrine. If Swedenborg asked, in his writings, for proof of Jesus explicitly claiming deity, they might know.

Yes, also, to the point that there seems to be a resurgence in some groups today, demanding proof (from Christians) that Christ claimed to be God (with a capital 'G'). But my answer is that there have always been such groups, from Arius onward, who have challenged Christians to prove that Christ claimed to be God incarnate. It is no surprise that you note this topic to be "a focal point among recent Christian apologists" because there is an almost relentless barrage of demands to them, from anti-trinitarian groups. Just note, however, that there's nothing 'recent' about it. Every century from Arius onward has had its anti-trinitarians making such demands of orthodox Christianity.

Post-script: a non-trinitarian states disbelief in the Trinity doctrine, saying why they disbelieve it.

An anti-trinitarian demands that trinitarians prove that doctrine, to their satisfaction.

EDIT in view of comments: First thanks for the date correction. Second, a valid point in suggesting modern-day Swedborgians might come into the scope of this question is not contradicted by the view that "Jesus' deity is even stronger than that of the trinitarians, to the point that [today] makes no distinction whatsoever between the risen and glorified Jesus Christ and God." This could demonstrate the swing of the 'deity pendulum' to one far extreme, away from claiming Jesus was just a good, or even perfect, human, and not divine at all. The valid point is contradiction, one way or another, of what trinitarian doctrine has fixedly maintained over millennia, and the debates that have raged constantly, from Arius till today. Modern-day Swedenborgians are to be found in America and all over, despite its origins being in Europe in the 1700s.

However, given further comments, this should best give rise to a fresh question so that full scope be given to many others to investigate and answer. It bears investigation, for it is just as 'threatening' to the trinitarian doctrine of the full deity of Christ as is the other extreme, denial of the full deity of Christ. As the start of my answer pointed out, "Jesus spoke words himself that showed he was claiming full deity with God the Father" not instead of, or in place of. Thanks for clarifying that Swedenborg's position was not that Christ ever denied deity.

  • As much as I like publicity for Swedenborg, I would suggest deleting the paragraph that mentions him in this connection. If anything, Swedenborg's insistence on Jesus' deity is even stronger than that of the trinitarians, to the point that he makes no distinction whatsoever between the risen and glorified Jesus Christ and God. In Swedenborg's theology, Jesus Christ is the one and only God and Lord of the universe. In Swedenborg's version of the Trinity, God is one both in essence and in person, and that Person is the Lord God Jesus Christ, in whom is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Commented May 8 at 18:20
  • @LeeWoofenden I am away from home just now and do not have access to the literature I would use to respond to this comment. But it seems to me and others of orthodoxly trinitarian belief, that it goes totally against trinitarian doctrine to claim that 'Jesus Chrst is the one and only God and Lord of the universe.' There was no Jesus Christ until the incarnation (at the point of Mary miraculously conceiving.) But the Q does not ask about details regarding doctrine; only for when modern demands for explicit deity claims by Jesus emerged. I referred to Swedenborgianism as one such for despite
    – Anne
    Commented May 9 at 16:47
  • claims that he was convinced Jesus was God, that still conflicted seriously with orthodoxly trinitarian doctrine. This means that the debate about the matter the OP raises, respecting 'modern' groups, can rightly include Swedenborgianism, in my view, as an example of the variations that have developed from the era of Arius. It's part of the debate denying there are three persons in the one Being of God. I won't be able to make any more comments for a while, however.
    – Anne
    Commented May 9 at 16:53
  • Of course, it's your answer. But as a lifelong Swedenborgian, and a Swedenborgian scholar, I can tell you that it will not be particularly fruitful to "ask the Swedenborgians" about this Q because we have always viewed Jesus as divine, and have never demanded proof that Jesus claims to be divine. We are in full opposition to an Arian/Unitarian view of God. Commented May 9 at 18:34
  • For reference on the Swedenborgian view of Arianism vs. Trinitarianism: christianity.stackexchange.com/a/86955/20394 Commented May 9 at 18:42

The demand for an explicit statement appears to have begun the night before the crucifixion:

63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.

64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

65 Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. (Matthew 26:63-65)

Not all Christians understand those verses in the same way (this of course could be said of most verses).

By comparison to John 10:33, and in light of the Sanhedrin's reaction in Matthew 26, I see that the Jews understood Jesus to be proclaiming His Deity, and the legitimacy of that claim was already being explicitly challenged at this early date.

Various forms of this question have been asked ever since.

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    If you are taking this tack, @HoldToTheRod , it would be good to add Matthew 21:23-27, which begins with their question: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” which question Jesus refuses to answer for clever reasons. Commented Mar 26 at 15:17

Your question isn’t entirely clear.

If you mean to ask when it became standard theology or doctrinal necessity to declare Christ as God as part of the requirement for salvation, this first began to emerge in the late nineteenth century in the United States in response to certain groups, like the Jehovah’s Witness, who claimed Jesus was not God Almighty, but a lesser god.

If you’re asking when the teaching first started in earnest as a bonafide and dedicated teaching as opposed to being simply a status quo belief amongst the general Christian community, the evidence would suggest the fourth century around the time of the first Council of Nicea and the Arian controversy.

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