Is Jesus “man” or “God”?

In my theology class, we are studying briefly the creeds and such — how were these formed, how did the early church work, and that sort of thing. One of the big essential things hammered out was the “trinity” — there is only one God, but clearly incarnate God in Jesus was quite different from God the creator/father and both of those quite different from the Holy Spirit. There could be much — very very much — to study and think about here. But you all know I’m all about my little bit of Acts that I’ve agreed to learn by heart. So imagine my shock when it turns out to be one of the critical passages in the Jesus-was-just-a-man / no-he-wasn’t / yes-he-was debate!

And I was even more shocked because I just hadn’t understand that before, and by now I’ve read and said it maybe a hundred times. This stuff is like an onion and keeps unfolding and I love it when that happens.

So…. Peter is talking, as you recall, and starts out: “….Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to by God….”

a man!?!

then further down in that same passage:

“…this man, handed over to you …..”

It turns out some folks in the 300’s or so were like: hey Peter fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that Jesus is a man, says that God says that Jesus is a man.

Now there are many many counter scriptures — and to be crystal clear the debate “ended” with the concept of the trinity, one God with three Persons — or as I like to think of it a braid with mystery interwoven.

Regarding “my” piece of Acts, however, I think it was a debating style of Peter. The crowd has said, you folks are drunk and crazy and be quiet. Peter is eloquently countering that in many ways. In “my” part, he starts out as if he conceding: Ok, this man, who God was pleased with, who God was guiding, you killed him, by the hands of those outside the law. Imagine those in the crowd maybe with arms crossed, but sort of nodding, okay Peter has his spin on this God-stuff but he’s starting to sound more reasonable.

Then Peter just little by little makes it clear that Jesus was more than a man, even more than a man just attested to by God himself. Because God raised him up, freed him from death — the language changes from:

“this man” (Acts 2: 22 and 23)


“this Jesus” (Acts 2:32 and 36)


“My Lord” (Acts 2:36)

Since I grew up Unitarian Universalist, I realize fully that the debate over “Jesus: man or God” (and what even is meant by the little word “God”) continues. From what I have learned however, it was a much bigger thing, a huge question of the early church, a depth and height of controversy that we can’t imagine today.

When I go present this by heart, will I say “man” in a questioning way? Will I be able to shade my tone to imply that perhaps there’s more to it? Will I just say it plainly, as I have been practicing, as the crowd might have heard it plainly at the beginning?

Fascinating how one word can suddenly change things!


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