Thursday, March 24, 2011

It Is All a Legend

There is a classic formulation on the question of who Jesus Christ is, as put forth by C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell:  that He must be either a liar who made false claims about Himself, a lunatic who believed things about Himself that were delusional, or who He claimed to be, Lord--God come in the flesh to deliver us from our sins. But there is another option, that He was a legend that grew up slowly over time. (It should be said in defense of Lewis and McDowell that they argue against this option before presenting us with their alternatives.) Does this other option really work?

 While they were later deified by some, it is fairly clear what Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu originally taught.  Few doubt Mohamed claimed to be a prophet. Yet it is claimed that the teachings of Jesus Christ were so totally distorted over a few hundred years (at most) as to be totally unrecognizable. Is this really believable? The New Testament consistently says that Jesus is God (Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 1:8), that He paid the price for sin (Romans 3:21-26; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 Peter 2:24,25), that He rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Romans 1:4; Ephesians 1:20-23), and that He is the only source of salvation (Acts 4:12; Colossians 2:8-12; Philippians 3:7-11) and the One who will ultimately bring about His rule on earth (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Philippians 3:20,21; 2 Corinthians 5:10)--none of which seems to fit an ordinary man. Nor can this problem be evaded by going to the synoptic gospels (the three other than John, which are similar). There we still see things attributed to Jesus that do not fit an ordinary man (Mark 14:62; 10:45; Matthew 7:21-23; 11:27; 23:34), and He also accepted worship (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33) and forgave sins (Mark 2:5-12). The Gospel of John, which is often dismissed as late (though there is an existing fragment of it dated between 117-138 AD) is much clearer (John 1:1-14; 8:57-59; 10:30; 14:6-9; 20:28,29). Those immediately following the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and down to Tertullian (who coined the word Trinity) offer the same message. Even the pagan observers Lucian and Pliny the Younger accuse Christians of worshiping Jesus as God.

There does not seem to be any basis in early Christianity for seeing Jesus as a Jewish rabbi, philosopher, or prophet who simply delivered a message. One way to get around this is to transport modern neo-orthodox theology back to the first century and claim Jesus being God was true for His followers even though it was not true in reality. But given there is no evidence this philosophy even existed back then, this is nothing but circular reasoning. Therefore, if Jesus' immediate followers were claiming He was God, the logical inference is they got it from Him. So the Lord, liar, lunatic choice is still the real option. The legend option does not stand up to examination.

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