Going from the historical Jesus to the Jesus of faith

September 9th, 2018 in Belief. Tags: , , ,

A reader commenting on this blog asked me some questions about Jesus and history and I thought that they were good questions worthy of a decent response.

Part of John’s comment was:

“So I was curious as to what your specific Christian beliefs were …. where you stand on Christ’s divinity. It’s one thing to say, for example, “God reveals truth to all people, but is known most completely through Jesus, so we are all more complete and closer to the truth if we believe in what he said and did” and another to say “Jesus was fully God and fully man.” It’s one thing to acknowledge “There is good historical evidence, accepted by most secular historians, that Jesus lived, and that he did and said many of things recorded about him,” but quite another to then conclude that everything written about Jesus in the Gospels is 100% pure, bonafide historical fact (like raising people from the dead, having the dead raise when he was crucified, turning water into wine, and other “miraculous” or supernatural things).

“Because my qualm is that there really isn’t any historical evidence for any of the supernatural or divine claims about Jesus. ….. My issue is more that you seem to be over-using the evidence of a historical Jesus to back up narratives of divinity and supernatural occurrences that the same historical evidence would not suggest actually occurred. The historical Jesus and the “Bible Jesus” (let’s call him) are quite different entities.”

This post is my first thoughts on these questions. (Thanks John for asking them.)

How do we know what’s true?

I think we need to start with our basis for believing anything.

Psychologists tell us that we use two different modes of thinking – analytical (systematically assembling and assessing information until we can reach a logical conclusion) and intuitive (making choices more quickly by “gut feeling” or even unconsciously).

You might think that analytical thought is better and more likely to lead to the correct answer, but this isn’t always the case. We need to use both modes of thinking, even in very analytical tasks (Einstein once said “There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition …”).

In some situations, for example using the scientific method, analytical thinking will predominate, but in another cases, for example when facing complex questions without a clear methodology, intuitive thinking can lead to better results than analytical thinking.

Thinking about Jesus

Some people want to be able to “prove” or demonstrate the truth of Jesus’ divinity to the same level as we understand simple scientific facts, via analytical modes of thinking, but I think this is inappropriate. Most of the important but less tangible truths in life – for example, ethics, politics, aesthetics, relationships, decisions about our careers and who we see ourselves to be – cannot be decided with such certainty and thus will require a fair degree of intuitive thinking.

So in thinking about Jesus’ divinity, I think we have to start with the strongest facts we can find (analytical thinking), but have to then make a decision on what is the best explanation of those facts (intuitive thinking).

Starting point

For me, the facts about Jesus and God include what we know about the universe and what we know about humanity from the outside (scientific study) and from the inside (personal experience).

  • So the fact that the universe exists at all, and the fact that the cosmologists tell us it is on a knife-edge where any small variation in a dozen parameters would make it impossible for life and likely not existing at all by now, can only be adequately explained (I believe) by God.
  • Likewise, human experience of freewill, our sense of right and wrong, our consciousness of self and our ability to think rationally, all seem to point to us being more than simply material.
  • Finally, human experience of answers to prayer, healings and mystical experiences are (I think) all better explained by God actually being there than that people imagine these things.

So before I come to considering Jesus, I have very strong reasons to believe in a creator God who cares about ethics, rationality, beauty, purpose and us humans.

Historical evidence

According to secular historians, the gospels gives us good information about Jesus, but with a lot that is uncertain. Some historians accept the supernatural, some do not. Most agree that there are mistakes, or interpretations, or literary devices, that mean we shouldn’t take every word as literal infallible fact, but that there is plenty there to go on and build a picture of Jesus. For example:

  • Almost all historians accept that Jesus was known as a miracle worker, regardless of whether they believe he actually performed miracles (some do, some don’t).
  • Most accept he was seen, and probably saw himself, as a messianic prophet and teacher.
  • A majority seem to accept that his disciples had visionary experiences of him alive after his death, regardless of how we might explain them, and that his tomb was indeed found empty, even if they doubt some of the empty tomb accounts. Some historians (e.g. NT Wright) argue that only a literal resurrection can explain the historical facts we have.

The choice we face

So we face a choice. Based on the generally agreed historical facts, what is the most reasonable explanation for the claims made about Jesus that the historians do not fully agree on?

I cannot “prove” from all this that Jesus was divine, but I believe it is by far the simplest and most likely explanation for all those “facts”. If he wasn’t divine, why did people believe that he did miracles and was resurrected? Did they make up the stories (deliberately invention), or did the stories grow as legends, or were they honestly mistaken?

Did Jesus claim divinity?

John says, quite correctly, that “it’s not historically clear whether Jesus actually claimed divinity himself or whether that was a later addition”.

But there are many hints to Jesus’ divinity in the gospel accounts, and it does seem to be established that worship of Jesus alongside God, and thus some form of belief in his divinity and resurrection were part of christian belief from the very early days, and were certainly not a later legend.

Many other miracle-workers?

Some say people were gullible in those days and easily believed in the miraculous, and that there were many messianic miracle-working figures in those days. But historians I have read say this isn’t true.

No-one of those days was believed to do miracles like Jesus, and no figure was comparable to him. New Testament scholars Gerd Thiessen and Annette Merz can say: “Nowhere else are so many miracles reported of a single person as they are in the Gospels of Jesus.”

The closest was perhaps Apollonius of Tyana, but it seems that some of the stories about him were copied from christianity, and his life and claims weren’t really comparable.

Many today nevertheless believe that Jesus was no more than a would-be rabbi-prophet whose belief in God’s action on earth were ultimately shown to be mistaken. That is one possible explanation.

The only other possible explanation is that he was indeed divine, however we may understand that. All other explanations don’t really pass the historical test.

The choice I make

Granted my conviction from the evidence of the world and humanity that God exists, it is no surprise that I believe the christian belief is a far more likely than the failed prophet explanation. It better explains the character of Jesus, his teaching and apparent miracles, his apparent uniqueness and his disciples’ response after he died.

Jesus and present-day christianity

I nevertheless agree that the Jesus believed by many christians today (and disbelieved by many sceptics) is not the Jesus of history and of the gospels.

We humans have a tendency to venerate and worship, and to claim ownership of Jesus in ways that distort the truth. For example, magnificent cathedrals with elaborate rituals conducted by priests in highly ornate regalia, white-suited televangelists asking for money, gun-toting patriots, gay hating abortion clinic bombers, and hippies who accept all things as equally good, all seem to me to have put a thick layer of their own interpretation over the historical Jesus. This may be so he better serves their purposes, and allows them to avoid his uncomfortable commands like unconditional forgiveness, love for enemies, avoiding materialism and unnecessary religious rules, and being sensitive to the poor and outcast.

Doubtless we all can distort or ignore Jesus to some degree, but we surely need to keep ourselves anchored to the Jesus we can read about in the gospels.

Theologian Miroslav Volf grew up in Croatia and Serbia, and observed the terrible treatment of opposing religious and ethnic groups during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, where Roman Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs committed appalling atrocities apparently in the name of their religion. He contasts the “thin faith” of many of the so-called christian combatants that allowed them to behave so badly with the “thick faith” that is required to truly follow Jesus’ non-violent teachings of forgiveness and love for enemies.

I can’t help thinking there is too much thin faith in Christendom today, and too little thick faith, and this explains so much that is unattractive in the church today.

In the end ….

So that is why I believe that following the Jesus of history is as close to holistic truth as we humans can get, and a far more historically justified option than not following him or only superficially following him, and one far more likely to lead to a meaningful life. Of course I don’t always live up to those aspirations, but I keep trying and God is forgiving.

The ultimate “proof” is found in living. I have lived this conclusion for about 55 years, and have so far found it seems to “work” and be true. No matter how hard I explore and question my beliefs, and change them in many ways, the core remains, as true as ever and a light to my life. The last test will be when I die, but I feel happy to wait for that final confirmation!

Further reading (on this site)

Photo: I have seen this photo several times (first here) but with no attribution. If I shouldn’t have used it, please tell me and I’ll remove it.

0 Comments

  1. I am writing this as I read through, in order that I don’t miss or forget anything.

    In regards to your starting point, we are at the same place. As I said in the context part of my initial comment, I maintain a firm belief in a Creator, though my understanding of what that term means and implies had grown over time (and in response to my engagement with different religious ideas and doctrines, especially my recent and intense engagement with Christianity and Mormonism). I would hope that you would not dismiss me using a “no true Scotsman” fallacy, as is often the case when an ex-member discusses their reasons for leaving a particular religious system; they’re often accused of never having truly believed or never having truly had a real testimony and so on. (This is often done because there are scriptures which claim such things, but the topic of scriptural inerrancy is separate – but important! – from the topic of Jesus Christ’s divinity.) You can still fully believe that there is a Creator and also believe that claims about JC’s divinity are not true and that scriptures are not inerrant.

    Let me also say, you don’t strike me as a “typical” Christian so I’m not going to assume anything about your belief set, and I haven’t had the time to read all of your archives so you may have posts already written which address some points that I will bring up here.

    To add to your discussion of analytical and intuitive knowing… I think most people don’t realize that we live all of our lives based on faith. A pastor I respect greatly once said our greatest asset is our belief system, and I think that still holds true. We have faith that when we flick our wall switch, the light comes on – most of us don’t understand anything about the first principles of electricity, how AC current from the wall coming from the powerline gets converted to DC and flows into the lightbulb and all of that. And we don’t need any of that; we have faith that the science works and so we flip on the switch. Similarly, many have faith that Jesus is divine and make decisions based on that faith, or that Allah is real and make decisions based on that faith, that their car will start when they turn the key and make a decision based on that faith and so on. When we get right down to it, we should realize we (as individuals) actually have very little understanding about how most of the things in our daily life work – how many of us fully understand everything that goes on while we type a message on our keyboard (all of the individual circuits and switches and all of the data that is being interpreted by a machine and represented by 1s and 0s but in reality represent different levels of electrical signals being computed at many trillions of times a second and broadcast over great physical distance and on and on)…. Faith is an essential fact of life, most of just don’t realize how much so. Many deride religion because it is so based on “faith” and prefer science because it is so based on “fact” and “proof,” not realizing they’re just placing their faith in science they themselves probably don’t fully understand and which actually cannot, by definition, “prove” anything. (If you prefer a little bit of humor when making a point, this is a video that humorously and satirically makes a few of these points. Take it with a grain of salt and have a bit of a laugh.) Yet science is extremely useful, and religion can have its uses as well. Both can also have devastating and terrible consequence.

    Regarding your section on historical evidence – this is probably where the crux of any disagreement we might have is. My position is basically this: Yeshua certainly existed, but I don’t think he considered himself to be divine. Tim O’ Neill lays out the case for why this is so better than I ever could, and many of the ideas here are repeated by the website Yeshua before 30CE, in the essay called “Yeshua’s Teachings and the Church”. Does Jesus’ divinity matter? Well, that depends. Him not being divine does not really take away from his moral teachings or the good fruits that can result from living a life based around love. But they do matter quite a lot if you are a person concerned about whether the afterlife might be real and what that reality looks like. Doubly so if you believe there is a Hell (which I do not, “The Church’s Development of the Hell Myth” is a good starting point on that topic).

    I’m glad you did write up a section about whether Jesus claimed to be divine. For more context and information about this, I would again highly recommend my earlier link to Tim’s quora answer about this subject. The problem with most Christian interpretations of “evidence for Jesus’ divinity” is that they often revolve around a certain level of ignorance about the Jewish faith generally and what being the Messiah meant. I would accept that Jesus might have thought of himself as the Messiah (there were, in fact, many people during that time who thought of themselves as such and some even amassed followings greater than Jesus’), but that did not mean that he thought of himself as divine. The Messiah was essentially God’s appointed and anointed one; this idea that the Messiah was also God is a Christian interpretation that did not exist in Judaism. (Also, the idea that Jesus was “worshiped” is based on a misunderstanding of the original Greek words used in scripture – a point Tim makes in his thorough essay.)

    Tim again has a good post about the miracles that Jesus worked, which is worth reading. I don’t think it’s fair to call ancient people “gullible,” per say – that implies Jesus was intentionally misleading them or something and I don’t think that’s an accurate understanding of what happened. But people were much less skeptical about miracles than we are now and would not apply the same skepticism to extreme miracles (like raising people from the dead or raising from the dead oneself) that we do today. Miracle working is actually one of the big things that broke my shelf in regards to believing in Christ’s divinity, because nowhere have I encountered any miracles at all approaching the same level of what Christ and the disciples supposedly worked (legitimately and unambiguously healing blindness, sickness, raising people from the dead and so on) despite encountering many people who claimed they could do these things. And Jesus was reported to have quite unambiguously said “these and greater things shall you do in my name.”

    When it comes to your conclusion, I don’t necessarily disagree. I have often heard the idea that “the ultimate proof is in the living” – one of my pastors used to say that even if the afterlife and divinity stuff turned out false, living his life in accordance with the teachings and example of Jesus had brought him greater satisfaction and fulfillment than living a life without these principles ever would have. And I would agree with that! My problem is that “belief in Christ” often does not stop at the good things. People condemn others for not believing, are eager to threaten hell and eternal damnation on others for not believing, and are quick to start “Bible thumping” in arguments, even where the teachings and example of Jesus contradict what other places of the Bible might have to say about a certain issue.

    I certainly experience greater joy and fulfillment from living my life according to the principles and examples of Jesus. I learned how to more fully love my fellow man, how to think with more of an eternal perspective, and how to get over some of the anger, hurt and resentment that I had grown up with. But for every good thing that is done in Jesus’ name, there is probably at least one bad thing as well (if not more), and these bad actors often get a free pass because they claim to be acting in the name of Jesus and with his supposed divine authority. Yet the more I learn about Jesus, history, the scriptures and how they were composed and so on, the pieces do not add up.

    Again, I still believe there is a creator. But I believe there is more to the story than most world religions are offering. I’d be happy to discuss that in more depth, but I don’t know whether you would enjoy that conversation or not – as again, my intention here was never to convert you or even to dissuade you from your faith, but rather try to understand more clearly what your specific beliefs were, especially regarding the divinity of Christ. (I also wanted to better understand how much you felt the historical evidence/analysis lined up in favor of the divinity of Christ.)

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquires!

  2. Shalom, peace, to you! How can we be sure that Jesus/Yeshua/Savior is God and divine? For me, a Jew who came to believe in Yeshua as our Messiah and our God over 45 years ago now, I can say, after reading through the Bible 31 times in English, and 10 times now in Hebrew, that probably the most revealing verse on this topic is the verse that finally did it for me in Isaiah 9:6, “A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and dominion shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called WONERFUL, COUNSELOR, ETERNAL FATHER, MIGHTY GOD, PRINCE OF PEACE.” You see, this was written in Hebrew several hundreds of years before Yeshua was born as a child. This shows that this child will be the physical manifestation of God himself, and He proved to be. How can Yeshua, or even God, who He is, perform all these miracles? Simple – HE IS GOD. If God can create the whole universe, doing these miracles that Yeshua did is no big task, AT ALL!!!

    I have seen lives changed because of the love of Christ, our Messiah! I have laid hands on people with cancer and the Holy Spirit of God that dwells in me, because I am a believer, healed these people. I have seen people addicted to drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes give it all up and change their lives radically instantly.

    Yes, our God is truly miraculous. Can you imagine, at one time there was nothing. Our universe has been reported to be anywhere between 8000 years old, to 4.5 billion years old, and the oldest I have heard was a whopping 25 billion years old. For me, it really makes no difference how old it is. At one point in time, there was nothing except God. God spoke things into existence by saying, “Let there be….” Yehovah, in Hebrew means “He caused to be.”

    Yes, that is our God. TOTALLY INCREDIBLE and way beyond understanding for many people, but not for me. It all makes sense, and it all fits.

    Yeshua said that He would come back from the dead in three days, and He did. Much of the prophecy in the Tanakh (Old Testament) is written in the past tense, because once God says that something is going to happen, it’s already a done deal, as I put it. God is so wise, smart, and all knowing that He knows exactly what is going to happen forever, for all eternity. That’s God! What can I say. The Bible, the Word of God, proves itself over and over again.

    In closing: Some people think that the Bible is just a collection of fairy tales, like Noah’s ark. Well, they found it back in the 1960’s on Mt. Ararat, just as God said, after the flood. They were finally allowed to dig into the ark, and they found animal remains, lots of them. The ark was made out of gofer wood, just as the Bible says, and here is a real good one for you…

    They found these big metal bolts that held down the decking on the ark. They tested it and found it to be 95% pure aluminum. So???? Aluminum wasn’t invented until 1954. Yup, that’s our God. You can count on Him. You can count on the Bible, the Word of God, as the truth, the only truth out there. I stake my life on it. My life is totally awesome. I serve the Lord our God by helping people in our community, doing prison ministry, and evangelizing or telling people the GOOD NEWS of our Lord and our God.

    I hope and pray that this makes sense to you, because it works for me and billions of others, and IT CAN WORK FOR YOU, TOO! Have a blessed day! Messianic rabbi David H. Winer, a completed Jew – born again, and whose sins have all been washed away thanks to the Blood of the Lamb of God, our Lord and Savior, Yeshua HaMashiach, or Jesus Christ.

  3. We can prove that the human soul is spiritual. There is an argument for God’s existence based on the assumption or hope that the universe is intelligible. However, we don’t need to decide whether or not God exists. We need to decide whether there is life after death.There is no evidence for life after death. People believe in Heaven and Hell because God is making them believe. More precisely, faith is both a decision and a gift from God because God gives us signs or “reasons to believe.” The Resurrection of Jesus is not evidence of life after death. It is a reason to believe, a sign, or a miracle. Another sign is the Shroud of Turin with its mysterious image. Another sign is that people who don’t belief don’t discuss the matter in an honest and rational manner.

  4. Laugh. After 47 years as a believer in Hod and the Spirit of Christ. I have a fairly firm conviction that not only is Jesus not a physical entity, but there has never been a physical entity. As Descartes said I think , therefore “ I AM” no coincidence the God says to Moses “ I AM”… but it is our sapience that exists.. sentience is part of the closed system we create and perceive of as a physical reality even though we know everything consists of sub atomic energy fields we only perceive of as being physical in nature. Added to that is the fact that everything can be expressed by the firing of synapses which is a binary system. ON or OFF… one or zero … existence or non existence… good or not good. The reality lies beyond our ability to express in terms of the physical perception we use to experience life’s sentient pleasures of food music touch sights and esteem and accomplishments …… that’s life and the purpose of life is to experience it because not experiencing it can become very boring….

  5. Hi John,

    Thanks for your comments and your links. I will focus mainly on your paragraphs following this statement: “Regarding your section on historical evidence – this is probably where the crux of any disagreement we might have is.” (I should start by saying that Tim and I have discussed these issues more than once, so I know we both start from the same historical facts, but he expresses and interprets them quite differently to how I do.)

    I agree that the modern evangelical teaching on hell is not Biblical. Jesus is basically the only one who spoke about it and he spoke to Jews who would have understood his teaching differently to how it is often understood today. Read my conclusions in Hell – what does the Bible say?

    I agree with much of what Tim O’Neill and ‘Yeshua before 30 CE’ say too. Many of the titles given to or claimed by Jesus (son of God, Messiah, son of man) do not necessarily imply divinity, and would have been understood by most Jews as Tim describes. And it has long been clear to me that there was development in the early christian’s understanding of Jesus, clearly seen in the New Testament.

    But that doesn’t do away with the claims for Jesus divinity. To get to his position, Tim has to explain a large number of passages. On many of them I agree with him, but there are still many that his explanation isn’t the only possible one, and a few that he has not addressed. For him to be right, every one of his explanations has to be correct, and I don’t think they are.

    Not everyone agrees with his explanation of the references to Jesus in Philippians 2. Larry Hurtado (who Tim describes, and more or less dismisses, as a “Conservative evangelical scholar”) is probably the scholar more than any other who has studied this question, I have read one of his books and follow his blog, and he is meticulously fair in his analysis, and doesn’t deserve to be dismissed by Tim in that way. And Larry shows that some of Tim’s confident statements about this passage are at least doubtful and possibly incorrect. Philippians 2, talks of Jesus being exalted and given a name above all other name, using words that in the OT passages they allude to referred to God himself. So it is very plausible to believe that Paul was ascribing divinity to Jesus.

    I don’t think Tim addresses Matthew 11:27: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” As I have said, kings and others could be described as a son of God, but this passage describes Jesus as the son, which is a higher claim. And there are several places where the synoptic gospels make statements like this. They show that while Jesus doesn’t necessarily claim divinity (this would have been a difficult claim to make to monotheistic Jews), he definitely claimed to be something higher than any other human being. I have summarised some of this in Jesus – son of God?

    So I think the historical facts are a little more complex than any of your references acknowledge. I think the facts are these. Jesus did not overtly claim divinity, and few probably believed he was divine in his lifetime, but he made implicit claims that can be seen in hindsight to hint at divinity. Larry Hurtado has shown (I believe) that the early christians very early began to worship Jesus alongside God, possibly as a result of their belief that he had appeared to them alive after his death. So it was their worship practices that first show their half-formed belief, and only later did they develop their full doctrine of his divinity.

    I’ll say little about miracles, beyond saying that while it is true that other figures were believed to do miracles, the scholars seem to say (see my quote from Thiessen & Mertz) that Jesus was at the least unusual, and more likely unique.

    So I think there is still a challenge to us all. We can believe, as Tim does, that all the apparent references to Jesus’ divinity can be explained in other ways, and that the stories about him are exaggerated and grew in the telling, or we can believe that the claims are there, albeit muted, and the basic stories are true, though the early christians’ understanding changed with time. I wouldn’t press you or anyone else to make a particular choice, but I will offer my reasons for making my choice.

    1. I am not an atheist as Tim is, and I believe there are very good reasons to believe there is a God. So I can be open to Jesus being divine, whereas Tim cannot so easily be.

    2. Either we believe the disciples recorded Jesus’ life and words more or less accurately, or we believe they got the crucial parts wrong – either they lied or they were mistaken. If they recorded Jesus’ words more or less accurately, then either he spoke truthfully of what he knew, or he didn’t – again, either he lied or he was mistaken.

    3. I think it is most consistent to say that both Jesus and the gospel writers were basically honest and meant what they said, and they spoke what they knew. I think that makes most sense of the historical data and the characters of the people concerned. For me, the thesis that either Jesus or the disciples lied or were mistaken requires too many explanations, as Tim’s piece illustrates, and too much stretching of the facts, including people’s experiences today and down through the ages. But clearly he sees it differently, as do many others, just as many others agree with me.

    So the whole matter isn’t as clear as Tim gives the impression, and it’s really up to you.

  6. Thanks for the response!

    Regarding your comments about Philippians 2; for me personally, it doesn’t really change my stance on the divinity of Jesus if claims of that divinity started with Paul, or started after Paul. If they are starting with Paul, it’s the same degree of problem, namely that the claims didn’t actually start with Jesus himself, which for me makes the whole thing a bit suspicious. If Jesus knew he was divine and that knowledge was essential to salvation, I would expect that he would have been a bit more unambiguous about teaching that in his own time.

    For me, the quote from Matthew 11:27 seems to make just as much sense if we understand that Jesus is ascribing to himself the Messiah status rather than trying to hint at that he might be divine. The Messiah status seems to clearly imply that Jesus (as Messiah) would be above every other human, but that doesn’t mean that he would necessarily be divine or otherwise equal to God. That extra step requires looking back at this passage with a Christian lens, I think. I will have to read the link you provided towards the end and share any relevant thoughts after having read it.

    You state that for you, the idea that Jesus and the disciples either lied or were mistaken requires too many explanations. Let me eliminate the idea that they lied from the conversation – I don’t think they lied. It’s entirely possible to honestly believe things that are untrue; it happens all the time. Presenting that untrue thing and arguing for it doesn’t make you a liar, because lies are intentionally false statements. For a modern day example, look no further than the Mormon church and Mormon missionaries. Mormon missionaries are indoctrinated in their system of belief and taught many things which are lies (and the upper echelons of the church knows are lies) as though they were true. The Missionary has no way of knowing these things are falsehoods (unless they start looking outside the church for information – which is strongly discouraged – and are able to overcome their own many years of indoctrination and all of the social and cultural pressure compelling them to “doubt their doubts” and so on) so when they go out and teach investigators about the church, even though they are teaching false doctrines it is not fair to call the missionaries themselves liars.

    So the disciples weren’t lying. Let’s also discuss whether Jesus was lying or mistaken. I don’t know that the case has been clearly proven to me at this point that Jesus actually thought of himself as divine. I still believe that Jesus did not think of himself as divine, that this was a later doctrine added which helped build up the nascent religion of Christianity. So in that sense, Jesus was neither lying nor mistaken. As to whether he was, in fact, the Jewish Messiah – on that I don’t really know the answer, but it seems he certainly thought that he was so I don’t think he was lying about it, he might only be mistaken about it if he was, in fact, not the Messiah. (I personally have moved beyond religious doctrines in my own spiritual life, so such a claim has little meaning or value to me in the first place.)

    For me, proving that Jesus knew and thought he was divine, taught the disciples that, and is actually divine requires just as many explanations, if not more explanations, than the idea that Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah, the early disciples thought of him as the Messiah, and late-comers (including perhaps even Paul, who we must remember never met Jesus in the flesh outside of his convenient Damascus encounter, if you choose to accept that as having actually happened) added the idea that Christ was divine. The former requires a special reading and interpretation of the earliest gospels and begs the question of why Jesus merely leaves subtle hints about the whole thing. The later idea (that Jesus thought he was the Messiah, the disciples accepted this, and divinity doctrine came later) seems to align much more easily with what we know historically about the period and the development of the scriptural canon.

    And again, even if Jesus is not divine, that does not take away from the benefits and blessings that can be had following his moral teachings and living a life according to the principles he espouses.

    Thanks again for having this conversation with me!

  7. Fair enough, I think you have clearly made up your mind, so I’ll make just two points.

    1. Most scholars think that the Philippians 2 passage didn’t originate with Paul, but had long been in existence as a creed or hymn. So it would be incorrect to say that “claims of that divinity started with Paul”. They started at the very least with the very early disciples, and like I have said, arguably came from Jesus himself, albeit subtly.

    2. I have always been suspicious of statements like “I would expect “ about God or Jesus. I would expect them to do things I wouldn’t expect!

    If we accept modern science, archaeology and historical study, as I do, then it is clear that if Jesus spoke the truth then the God who is his father has been a lot more subtle and unexpected than many religious people think. The Jewish leaders generally didn’t recognise Jesus as Messiah and he wasn’t the sort of Messiah that most Jews were hoping for. So the fact that you or I would expect something of him isn’t a strong argument to me.

    But thanks for your enquiry, at least it led to me writing this post. Best wishes.

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