Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Did Jesus Become God?

Was Jesus a great moral teacher who was later deified? Such things have been known to happen historically. There were Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Buddha, who were all in some sense deified. But this was long after the fact, and it is still possible to see their original  character from their preserved writings. Jesus, however, was proclaimed to be God from the very beginning, and it was an integral part of what was claimed about Him. The New Testament, the earliest record of what Christians believed, consistently makes these kinds of claims (Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18). Also, the message about Him was not that He was a good teacher, but that He died to pay the price for sin and rose again from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-19; Romans 4:24,25; John 3:16-18). One can try to get around this by referring only to the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but that will not solve the problem. There are repeated statements in these gospels that only fit with a claim to deity (Matthew 23:34; 11:27; 7:22-23; Mark: 2:5,6). Also, His mission and person are clearly seen as supernatural (Mark 10:45; 14:61,62; 8:38; Matthew 25:31-46).

Further, all the Christian writers who follow the New Testament, for instance the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, and Tertullian, upheld this same idea. Even the pagan observers, Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata, stated that Christians worshiped Jesus as God. Also, while there were a number of early break-off sects from Christianity, the most prominent ones did not deny Christ's deity, but His humanity. There were groups that considered Jesus a mere man with a divine message, but these were obscure and soon vanished.

It should also be noted that about 30 years after the founding of Christianity, Nero was putting people to death for being Christians. This means that by this time they had  a definite belief and they were willing to die for it. Now there were in the first century large numbers of moral philosophers and Jewish rabbinical teachers. If Jesus had been simply one of these, it is difficult to see why He would not have vanished into history as simply one more of the list. Certainly He would not have inspired people to die for Him or deify Him. We have an interesting example in Apollonius of Tyana. He was what most people today want to believe Jesus was, a moral philosopher with a few miracles tacked on. He immediately vanished into obscurity and has no current followers and probably had only a few at the time. That Jesus was such a person is not an adequate explanation.

Now this does not in itself prove that Jesus is God. One can still claim He was a swindler, a madman, or someone for some reason deified by His immediate followers. And we must weigh in our own minds the plausibility of these options. But a moral philosopher who was later deified over time does not fit the evidence.

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