Category Archives: Christianity

Did Jesus Claim He was God?

Perhaps at first glance, a modern person wouldn’t think that Jesus claimed to be God. Jesus didn’t use later, more familiar, Christian terminology. He didn’t refer to Himself as the “Second Person of the Trinity,” but He did identify Himself with God in a thoroughly Jewish way, in accordance with the language and expectations of His contemporaries.[1]

When He declared, “I have come,” He indicated that He had a supernatural origin.[2] When He forgave sins, He claimed divine authority.[3] His enemies recognized the implications of such a claim.[4]

Jesus applied the title “Son of Man” to Himself in a unique way that clearly implied to contemporaries He was claiming equality with God. He consciously acted in ways that corresponded to God’s actions in the Old Testament [5] and claimed (divine) power to choose people to carry out his purposes.[6]

Jesus’ miracles also confirmed that God was personally and supernaturally acting through Him in history. In the Gospels Jesus demonstrated divine power by calming the stormy seas, healing sickness, restoring deformed body parts, and raising the dead to life.[7]

Jesus accepted reverence and worship that Paul, as a mere man, rightfully rejected, and Jesus even claimed authority over the angels of heaven.[8]

His enemies may not have been aware of all of these things and their implications, but they were certainly aware of enough of them to realize Jesus identified Himself with God. In fact, it was a key part of the case they made for His judgment and execution.[9]

[1] “To get a genuinely biblical ‘high Christology’—a strong identification between Jesus himself and the God of Israel—you don’t need the kind of explicit statements you find in John (“I and the father are one,” 10:30). What you need is, for instance, what Mark gives you in his opening chapter, where prophecies about the coming of God are applied directly to the coming of Jesus.” Wright, How God Became King, p. 90 and following

[2] “When one examines these sayings of Jesus, the closest matches with them in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition are statements that angels make about their earthly missions (within the Old Testament, see, e.g., Dan 9:22–23; 10:14;11:2). I found twenty-four examples in the Old Testament and Jewish traditions of angels saying, “I have come in order to…” as a way of summing up their earthly missions. A prophet or a messiah in the Old Testament or Jewish tradition never sums up his life’s work this way.” How God Became Jesus p. 97

[3] Matthew 5:17; Mark 10:45; Luke 12:49; 19:10; Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5-11; Luke 5:20; 7:47-50

[4]Mark 2:7; see also “When one examines these sayings of Jesus, the closest matches with them in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition are statements that angels make about their earthly missions (within the Old Testament, see, e.g., Dan 9:22–23; 10:14;11:2). I found twenty-four examples in the Old Testament and Jewish traditions of angels saying, “I have come in order to…” as a way of summing up their earthly missions. A prophet or a messiah in the Old Testament or Jewish tradition never sums up his life’s work this way.” How God Became Jesus p. 97

[5] For example, he chose 12 disciples as the foundation of a new Israel that would carry out God’s plans in the world.

[6] Matthew 11:27

[7] Mark 4:39; 5:21-24; 6:30-44; 45-52; 9:25; Luke 4:39; 5:1-11; Matthew 12:9-14; 17:24-27

[8] Luke 24:52, Acts 10:25-26, Matthew 13:41; 25:31

[9] Mark 2:7; Mark 14:63-64

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Were the early Christians capable of producing the Gospels?

Skeptics of the historical accuracy of the New Testament often think that first-century Jews living in the Roman Empire were overwhelmingly illiterate and hence incapable of producing an accurate written record of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Some of the reasons given for the low literacy rates within the Roman empire are 1) there was no need for writing among the lower classes, 2) the lack of public education inhibited literacy, and 3) the prohibitive cost of writing materials made it difficult for people to afford to learn the skill.[1]

We now know that literacy within the first-century Palestinian and Roman cultures was much more widespread than these skeptics assume. Literacy was actually highly prized in the first-century Roman Empire. It allowed people to read publicly posted documents, deal with legal matters, and operate businesses.

Many surviving examples suggest literacy levels were relatively high and widespread. These examples include personal letters, legal deeds, divorce certificates, writing on coins, and household inscriptions that were clearly not written by scribes. [2]

But the primary reason to believe that Jesus’ first followers were capable of producing the documents that would later become the Gospels is that the witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry were not just run-of-the-mill inhabitants of the Roman Empire; they were Palestinian Jews.[3]

Jewish culture, more any other ancient culture, was founded on familiarity with a written document—the Mosaic Law.[4] Every synagogue in every small community, no matter how rudimentary and humble, was a center for religious teaching that included passing on the ability to read and discuss the Scriptures.

Internal evidence within the New Testament reinforces the view that written records were made of Jesus’ teaching long before the Gospels were written. We have good reason to believe that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were supported by written as well as oral sources from the very beginning.[5] The early followers of Jesus were more than capable of faithfully chronicling His message for future generations to read.

[1] Where literacy exists, people have always been highly motivated to learn to read and write. Just as parents would pass along other skills to children, they pass along any literacy they had gained. Even rudimentary skills in reading and writing are useful, and anyone who wants to learn how to read could certainly find ways of doing so. Within the Roman Empire, even the lower classes were highly motivated to attain a degree of literacy and adept at improvising less expensive writing materials than papyrus and parchment.

[2] (The Jesus Legend, p. 244).

[3] The great volume of writings found at Qumran testifies to a high degree of Jewish literacy. Jesus’ followers “were not all illiterate peasant laborers and craftsmen, as the form critics supposed, but evidently included people who studied the Scriptures with current exegetical skills and could write works with the literary quality of the letter of James. Leaders who were not themselves literate could employ the services of other believers who were” (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 287).

[4] “These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.* And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9 NLT)

[5] Luke notes, quite incidentally, that “many” before him had attempted to write accounts of what went on among the early Christians (Luke 1:1). In addition, some of Paul’s sayings in his letters parallel sayings in the Gospel traditions. This may suggest that sayings were written down and circulated well before the Gospels were written. Even more forceful, however, are the strong verbal similarities between Mathew and Luke when recording material not found in Mark. These similarities can be accounted for most easily by supposing that Matthew and Luke shared a common written source (Q). And, as a number of scholars have noted, there is ample evidence of early collections of Old Testament proof-texts (testimonia) in written form that were apparently used in preaching and in apologetic settings in the early church (The Jesus Legend, p. 250).

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Should Christians be tolerant?

Let’s be honest about the emotional reaction some of us have towards the concept of tolerance as a principle. If there were ever a buzzword for our culture, tolerance is it, and many of those who uphold this principle are often doing so in ways that are synonymous with an anything-goes belief system. And if compromise and a wishy-washy belief system is what we mean by tolerance, then we can certainly understand why a Christian would not want to be labeled as tolerant. But in a strict sense, tolerance has nothing to do with compromise. It is simply the ability to allow for views different than our own.

So, should Christians be tolerant? Well, that depends. If tolerance means compromising our belief in the message of Jesus Christ, the story of the Bible, or historic Christianity to avoid conflict with others, then no. But if tolerance means that we strive to live unwavering in our convictions and at the same time love others unconditionally, then yes. In this sense tolerance would look a lot like embracing prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, and other sinners like ourselves. It would look a lot like emptying ourselves of our spiritual pride, looking beyond people’s actions, and seeing them as people who matter to God. It would look a lot like submitting ourselves to the will of God and laying down our lives for those who desperately need His mercy and forgiveness.

In other words, it would look a lot like Jesus.

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Did Jesus really exist?

Considering the historical context, it’s remarkable that Jesus was mentioned at all in non-Christian historical documents. Yet while there is little reason we should expect first- and second-century non-Christian writers to mention Jesus Christ, some of them did. One was Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the first century.[1] Another was a renowned Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who referred to Jesus early in the second century.[2]

Numerous second- through fifth-century critics of the Christian faith, including Trypho, Pliny, Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, questioned what Christians believed about Jesus, but none denied He was a real person.[3] Jewish rabbinical tradition also confirms he lived.[4]

Lee Strobel, a professional journalist and author, points out that there is better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religion. Not only did Jesus’ followers worship him as God, but many skeptical historians also affirm His existence and the devotion of His followers.[5]

Even the skeptical participants of the “Jesus Seminar” acknowledge that Jesus was a real, historical person. Given the strength of these textual and historical evidences, it is very likely that Jesus not only lived, but was in fact who He claimed to be.

[1] “When, therefore, Ananus [the high priest] was of this [angry] disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road. So he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” (Antiquities 20.9.1)

[2] “Therefore, to stop the rumor [that the burning of Rome had taken place by order], Nero substituted as culprits, and punished in the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue.” (Tacitus, Annals, trans. C. H. Moore and J. Jackson, LCL, reprint ed. [Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 1962], 283)

[3] Trypho, recorded in Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue with Trypho,” denies that Jesus was Christ, but acknowledges Jesus’ historical existence. Pliny the Younger, a Roman senator and governor, refers to Christians as “reciting a hymn antiphonally to Christus as if to a god.” Celsus made the claim (echoed in the Talmud) that Jesus was a sorcerer and a bastard.

[4] “The Talmudic stories make fun of Jesus’ birth from a virgin, fervently contest his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God, and maintain that he was rightfully executed as a blasphemer and idolater. They subvert the Christian idea of Jesus’ resurrection and insist that he got the punishment he deserved in hell—and that a similar fate awaits his followers.

“Schaefer contends that these stories betray a remarkably high level of familiarity with the Gospels—especially Matthew and John—and represents a deliberate and sophisticated anti-Christian polemic that parodies the New Testament narratives.” (From the jacket summary of the content of Peter Schaefer’s book, Jesus in the Talmud)

[5] The Case for Christ, Zondervan, p. 260

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Can we prove God exists?

That depends on what we mean when we say prove. If we mean “is it possible to present solid, compelling, and logical reasons to believe in the existence of God,” then the answer is yes. But if we mean “can God’s existence be demonstrated beyond all possible doubt,” then the answer is no.

A “no” answer should not cause those who believe in God to panic. Those who deny God’s existence cannot prove their position, either.

Some things are just beyond our ability to prove, and yet we accept them as true. I cannot prove that my wife loves me, but I’m pretty sure she does. I can’t prove that a breathtaking sunset is beautiful, but I know that it is. I can’t prove that torturing and murdering another human being is evil, but it is.

All of us deeply believe in things that can neither be proven or disproven, including the existence of God. And yet we find ourselves as certain about them as we are about the wind that blows in our faces.

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