Question: Can Jesus be God in light of the following:
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, AV)
The above verse states four things. God is not a man, God is not a son of man, God is not deceitful, and God does not repent. For our purposes we need to focus on the first two. The words translated to son of man are ben adam—also rendered mortal man or human being. While this verse states that God is not a son of man, Jesus uses this title for himself repeatedly in the gospels. Therefore, Jesus is not God according to the Torah.
“I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.” (Hosea 11:9, AV)
The above verse states that God is not a man—but from the gospels we know that Jesus was a man. Therefore, according to Hosea Jesus is not God.
“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.”
(1 Samuel 15:29, AV)
Moreover, the Strength of Israel does not deceive or change His mind, for He is not human that He should change His mind. Once again we see that God is not a human. However, as noted above, the favorite title for Jesus in the gospels is one that is equivalent to "human being." I cannot, therefore, accept that Jesus was God. What is your proof?
Answer: Allow me to state your primary issue as I perceive it. The OT (Old Testament) teaches that God is not a man. It also teaches that, because he is not a man, he does not change his mind about things. However, the Bible shows us that Jesus claimed to be God—yet his favorite self description of himself was the son of man! And by that phrase he claimed to be human just like us. With all that in place, how can we prove that Jesus was indeed God?
Jesus claimed that he was both the Son of God and the son of man. There are no tricks here. He said that he was God, and he said that he was (at the same time) human. No one had ever said such a thing before. It was strange then and it is strange now—strange enough for a new term: the hypostatic union. I will never understand this union satisfactorily here on earth, and although we can talk about it, explain and define it, no one else understands it either. Therefore, “proof” cannot obtain. Jesus told us that this was his deal. We either believe him or we do not. I do.
It is critical to understand at this point that the Bible is true in detail and in toto, both the Old and the New Testaments. So, when Jesus began teaching new things, the old things did not become untrue; they became unveiled. Remember what he said about the law?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17, ESV).
All of Jesus’ new revelations worked exactly the same way. The old knowledge was shadowy, and as the light of the world, he dispelled the shadows wherever he went. This process is not destructive of the old knowledge; it is instructive of the old knowledge. Therefore, what was the Bible really saying about God not being a man or about God not changing his mind? To find out, the first thing we must do is to loosen your stranglehold on the OT language.
The OT references you used to tell us that God is not a man do not cover Jesus’ particular type of humanity. All they are telling us is that God is not a man as we think of men. They are showing us a contrast, not a restriction. There is nothing in logic that prevents him from becoming a man in a whole new way. In fact, redemption requires this, and redemption was God’s plan from before the foundations of the world (Rev. 13:8). Therefore, it can be said that God knew that he would become a man before any of those verses were even penned! And because both coexist as true, they are not in conflict as your question presupposes. Let’s look at this in more detail.
If we consider the OT in isolation (which is the Jewish perspective), we shall not likely “prove” to the Jews (or to anyone else, for that matter) that Jesus Christ was man, God, Messiah, and Savior—although the indicators are all there. We Christians see these scriptures as indicators because the NT revelation (not the book of Revelation, but the process of revelation) helps us to interpret those OT references. In this we see an important issue with biblical interpretation. God reveals his truth over time. He has unfolded himself and his purposes as needed and in sequence over the millennia.
For example, the pre-fallen Adam and Eve had no reason to know about redemption, but after they sinned—then the time was appropriate—and God laid it out for them in Genesis 3:15. That piece of revelation happened at a point in time, but its full meaning did not become clear until after Jesus came in the flesh and after inspiration was given to the NT writers. We understand now that Genesis 3:15 points directly to Jesus’ atoning death, and this revelation is necessary for us today. We must remember, however, that Adam and Eve’s pre-fall ignorance was appropriate to them at that time, because it was couched with innocence.
In like manner God revealed his will progressively to his people in the OT scriptures, and those people were responsible to behave in good conscience or in obedience according to where they were on revelation’s timeline. Today’s Christians are responsible for both the OT and the NT scriptures, because we live in a time when they are both complete. Additionally, we believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit, so there are certainly no excuses for us not to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God.
Here is the first key to answering your question. Since revelation is progressive, any person’s response to God depends on where they are on the line. An OT Jew would have no concept of the God-man, so you cannot use OT reasoning to “prove” that Jesus was God; his miracles did that, and that was their primary purpose. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus surely helped these people by curing them, but he performed these miracles, these signs, to prove that he was the Christ (that means the Messiah), the Son of God.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV).
People today still need to respond to these miracles. The Jews who remain in the OT mindset are spiritually blind (Rom. 11:25). Religious Jews probably know that the NT teaches that Jesus is their Messiah and God himself, so knowledge is not the problem. Therefore, “proof” is not the way. Those who have knowledge must move to faith...but how? We see plenty of references in the OT that speak to us of Jesus, but that is because we already know who he is. Let’s take a look through the eyes of a Jew. They do not see the Messiah as we do. The Jewish understanding of the Messiah is one of humanity and not of deity.
The mashiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5). The mashiach is often referred to as "mashiach ben David" (mashiach, son of David). He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5). He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example. He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel. He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15). But above all, he will be a human being, not a god, demi-god or other supernatural being. (http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm).
As Christians we may assume that we have common OT grounds with the Jews concerning the Messiah, and that things equal to the same thing are equal to each, therefore, Messiah = Jesus = God. As you can see we do not have common ground. At this point it is not about reasoning; it is about choosing. The Jews are 2000 years behind where they should be in responding to God’s revelation...and largely, they know the issues. They are where they choose to be...as are any category of non-believer in this age.
I’m a little confused about your statement that Jesus is not God according to the Torah, since none of the verses you quoted are from the Torah. But even if they were, the Jews do not see the Torah as saying anything about messianic issues.
Modern scholars suggest that the messianic concept was introduced later in the history of Judaism, during the age of the prophets. They note that the messianic concept is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). (Emphasis added).
However, traditional Judaism maintains that the messianic idea has always been a part of Judaism. The mashiach is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, because the Torah was written in terms that all people could understand, and the abstract concept of a distant, spiritual, future reward was beyond the comprehension of some people. However, the Torah contains several references to "the End of Days" (acharit ha-yamim), which is the time of the mashiach; thus, the concept of mashiach was known in the most ancient times. (http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm).
To summarize, because revelation is progressive, the OT concepts that are fully developed in the NT cannot easily be shared with people who do not accept the full revelation, and people who do accept the full revelation are usually Christians already. (Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 comes to mind.) Speaking from logic, my Christianity is based upon the veracity of the person of Jesus Christ as attested by his miracles. Therefore, people either “get” him or they perish.
Finally, God always had it in his mind that Jesus would become flesh and dwell among men, so God changing his mind about becoming a man is a non-issue.