Thursday, January 14, 2016

Who Would Die for a Great Moral Teacher?

One clear fact in the early history of Christianity is that, within about 30 years of its origin, Christians were being persecuted. This continued on and off, until Constantine made Christianity legally acceptable. Therefore, Christianity was very early considered something worth dying for. Some would claim that the Roman Emperors simply decided to go after Christians and would not let them off. Now this might explain a particular individual case. But it cannot explain why there were those who continued to profess to be Christians after the persecution started. After all, Christianity is a belief system, not something like ethnic background that can be established by research. And all the records claim you could get out of being persecuted simply by denying the faith and sacrificing to Caesar as a god.

Now one of the most common theories about Jesus is that He started out as a human moral philosopher and was later blown out of proportion. But this does not fit with His followers' being willing to die for Him at this early date. The Greeks and Romans had their share of moral philosophers. The Jews had a number of famous rabbis. One more moral philosopher would have been lost in the crowd. It is difficult to see how anyone, other than perhaps a few close companions,would have been willing to die for such an individual. Nor would one have died for an as-yet-undeveloped legend or a failed Jewish Messiah. But the Son of God, come to save us from our sins and give us eternal life, is worth dying for. Now this does not prove Christianity is true. You can still claim that it was a great fraud or that Jesus was more than a little out of His mind. And you will have to decide whether you can make that fit with the character of Jesus in the New Testament. But it does eliminate some of the options

The fact is, the great moral teacher thesis has almost no historical basis. The New Testament knows nothing of a non-supernatural Jesus. The main early distortions of Christianity saw Jesus, not even as a human, but as a god who was not willing to become a material human being but was a phantom that only appeared human. Though some held that this god co-oped a human being to speak through and then deserted him in the end. But even the Arians claimed Jesus was not just a great moral teacher or even a human prophet, but the greatest of all created supernatural beings. There were a few people who seemed to believe that Jesus was just a God-empowered human being: the Ebionites, Paul of Samosata. It is difficult to be sure exactly what they believed, as they were obscure, and little about them is preserved. The truth is, the main reason people have for holding that Jesus was a great moral teacher is that it is the idea they are most comfortable with. But it does not fit with the facts.

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