March 15, 2015
Is Worship of Jesus Idolatry?
Hello Dr. Craig,
First, I want to thank you for all that you have done for the cause of Christ. You have been a powerful witness for the faith. I've continually been challenged in my thinking and knowledge by your writings and public discourses. You have taught me how to think critically and how to share Christian truth in a Christ-like manner.
I am a student of philosophy looking to go into apologetics ministry. In my studies and my time witnessing I've had to address many of the common objections to Christianity. One of the more recent objections has come from a Jewish man that I am witnessing to. It seems that one of the crucial things that is holding him back is the worship of Jesus. He couldn't see any way how this wouldn't end up being idolatry because, as he claimed, “you would be worshiping man rather than God”. Of course, I tried to point out that Jesus has two natures but it seems like this point was missed. Do you have any helpful ways to explain our worship of Jesus in a way that bypasses this objection? How should we understand our worship of Jesus? Do we worship him in deity and merely admire his humanity?
Any of your thoughts on this issue would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for all that you do in the name of Christ.
Thank you for your question, Adam, and your faithful service to our Lord! I do think that I can be of help to you and your friend.
Your friend is quite correct that “worshiping man rather than God” would be idolatry. But the allegation that Christianity implies the worship of a man betrays a lack of understanding of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon is emphatic that in the incarnate Christ there is one and only one, undivided person who has two distinct natures, one human and one divine. That one person is the second person of the Trinity, the Son, and is therefore divine. He is not a human person, nor is there another person who is Christ and is human. That would be the heresy of Nestorianism, positing a plurality of persons in Christ. There is only one person who is Christ, and that person is divine. Thus, there is no human person named “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus is a divine person, and medieval theologians were careful never to refer to Jesus as a human person.
Now what is true is that that divine person has a human nature in addition to the divine nature he has always had. He assumes a human nature in the Virginal Conception by Mary. But the person Mary bore was a divine person, which is why she was called the Mother of God. When people say that Jesus was both human and divine, they do not mean that he was both a divine person and a human person, but that he was a divine person who had a human nature in addition to his divine nature.
It needs only to be added that we as Christians worship the person Jesus Christ. We do not worship his nature(s); we worship him. We don’t worship God’s properties; we worship Him. Since Christ is a divine person, and since there is no person who is Christ and is human, there just is no room at all for idolatry.