Jesus Didn’t Think He Was God

I mentioned a few posts about Bart Ehrman’s recent book yesterday, and there are already a couple more. Larry Hurtado offered some amendments to his post, in light of feedback from Bart Ehrman himself. And Ken Schenck blogged about chapter 3 and whether Jesus thought he was God. In it he writes:

I think we can safely assume that, in his public persona, Jesus did not go around telling everyone he was the Messiah, let alone God.

But one must then ask whether these is a good reason to regard the process that follows, in which Jesus comes to be viewed as the second person of the Trinity, is a legitimate or necessary one.

Schenck also criticizes Ehrman for giving voice to older formulations of scholarly views, as though things had not moved on.

The only people who think that Jesus was viewed as a divine figure from the beginning are some very conservative Christians on the one hand , and mythicists on the other. That in itself is telling.

I’d be very interested to see further exploration of the idea that, in talking about the “son of man,” Jesus was alluding to a future figure other than himself, and that it was only his followers who merged the two, coming up with the notion of a “return” of Jesus. It is a viewpoint that was proposed and then set aside decades ago, and I don’t personally feel like either case has been explored to the fullest extent possible. Scholarship on the Parables of Enoch has shifted since those earlier discussions occurred, and the possibility that that work could have influenced Jesus can no longer be dismissed.

But either way, we are dealing with the expectations of a human being, either regarding his own future exaltation, or the arrival of another figure. We simply do not find in Paul or in our earliest Gospels a depiction of Jesus as one who thought he was God.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Both Vielhauer and Crossan make convincing arguments, IMO, that even most of the ‘Son of Man’ statements attributed to Jesus are later Christianized proclamations from evangelists who saw Jesus as Daniel’s Son of Man and not from Jesus Himself.

    As for Jesus thinking himself equal to Yahweh in any way . . .I don’t even see a coherent argument for that position. But much of the discussion involves anthropomorphizing God anyway . . God the “Father” sends his “Son” like it’s Zeus having a baby and sending him to Earth. This is the thinking that the Roman-educated Patristics had in their background (which of course was seen in Nicaea)

    Better to think of “God as unveiled by Jesus” or the “ultimate revelation of God” . . in that case I don’t have an issue if one wants to speak in Trinitarian terms but I think insisting on them being “distinct” is just placing un-categorizable things into categories.

    • Michael Wilson

      I agree that most of Jesus’ self referential son of man references could well be inventions. We have to be suspicious of Jesus predicting his death or that what he said during his trial was accurately reported to his followers. I think though that Crossan (I haven’t read Vielhaur’s arguments) may be letting his own bias guide him regarding what Jesus said regarding messianic figures. Crossan I feel wants a Jesus that would make a good role model for modern advocates for social justice and a Jesus that is preaching the end of the world or who think they’re messiah appears egotistical and looney to modern folks.

      • Andrew Dowling

        “Crossan I feel wants a Jesus that would make a good role model for
        modern advocates for social justice and a Jesus that is preaching the
        end of the world or who think they’re messiah appears egotistical and
        looney to modern folks.”

        Perhaps, but I think Crossan’s picture of realized eschatology (and I don’t agree with everything Crossan says) by and large makes more sense of Jesus’s sayings and parables than not, as well as helping explain why the effect Jesus had on his followers was different than those of most other end times prophets . . frankly, I don’t see how we’d be talking about Jesus 2000+ years later if he was simply John the Baptist version 2.0

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Well, the Mandaeans are still talking about John the Baptist 2000 years later. I suspect there is more to the question of Christianity’s popularity than merely how like or unlike John the Baptist Jesus was. And having Jesus be radically different from John and from Jesus’ own earliest followers seems especially problematic. I recommend Dale Allison’s recent work, which highlights the importance of focusing on the gist of our earliest sources, since individual sayings taken in isolation can always be interpreted in a variety of ways.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Well, I’m not expert on the Mandaeans, but I don’t think JBap is central to Mandaean religion like Jesus is to Christianity, nor did the religion necessarily derive from his followers seeking to maintain his message following his death. Of course Jesus’s post-death followers don’t support my point by itself, but I think it’s one small piece of the puzzle

            Funnily enough I was actually going to bring up Allison as someone who posits an apocalyptic Jesus that isn’t “egotistical or looney.” Have you read the book with Allison and several Jesus Seminar folks debating the topic? I think Allison more than holds his own vs Borg and Crossan, but I think Patterson persuaded me that a “kingdom is already here” Jesus simply makes more sense of the earliest strains of the tradition, and unlike some, I definitely think it is possible to identify, imperfectly, what is likely early and what is likely later. But this is a topic in which I think reasonable minds can equally be on either side.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I agree, both on the Mandaean point and on the possibility of reasoned disagreement on this point. I suspect that I am not as persuaded as you are that the sayings related to the kingdom’s presence are incompatible with Jesus having held apocalyptic expectations. And I find Marcus Borg’s reasoning refreshingly honest when he says that apocalyptic prophets seem to him to be insane, whereas Jesus seems to him to have been sane – I just do not trust that the way Jesus seems to a modern intellectual necessarily corresponds to how he seemed to his contemporaries.

              • Michael Wilson

                James, I would agree with Alison that Jesus need not be insane to be an apocalyptic preacher. Let us not forget that Isaac Newton spent time trying to decode Revelation. For many in Jesus community the belief that the world would end and God would intervene for the sake of the righteous was taken for granted, “settled science.” Under the right circumstance one raised in this environment might rationally conclude that the time was now. Regarding the idea that god speaks to them and delivers messages, its true that now, and likely then, delusional individuals made these claims, But you know, some people work for the CIA and some people think they work for the CIA. Some one may mistake the activity of seizure or vivid dreams as being communications with the divine with a sound mind if that sort of thing was frequently attributed to the divine in your community. Further, like Hesoid, one might attribute mundane inspiration to a divine source, so that one attributes their on reasoned opinions to a divine source if they are convinced of there truthfulness. Look at the examples of Amos and Ezekial. Their prophesies are very much poetic presentations of the present day and reasonable predictions of the immediate future. They are to well thought out to be discounted as lunacy. And like Jesus, their is also a political agenda wrapped up in the prophecies, people on earth that need to be propriated in order to reverse the current bad tide.

  • Brian P.

    I just started Litwa’s Iesus Deus. Looking forward to reading.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I hope to read it soon too!

      • Brian P.

        Start in at chapter one. Skip everything before so you don’t cringe on the writing. You’ll miss little.

  • dantejohns

    I personally wonder if the historical Jesus used “son of man” in a non-eschatological, self-referential way, and that connections to the Enochic Son of Man took place later in the first century, with the Similitudes written sometime in the first century AD. Interestingly, I find myself considering Matthew 25 almost certainly secondary, as opposed to Ehrman.

  • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

    Could there also be a relationship between Jesus’ self-identification of “Son of Man” and God calling Ezekiel “Son of Man?”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      It isn’t impossible. But since “son of man” was simply an idiom for “human being” or “someone” I don’t think there is a reason to connect the two, unless one finds specific allusions to Ezekiel being made by Jesus.

      • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

        Perhaps then he was identifying himself as human or making that point absolutely clear. It does make one think.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          That seems unlikely, since he would have been emphasizing the obvious. The most viable options are that he was using a humble indirect way of speaking about himself, as per Vermes, or that he was alluding to the “son of man” figure in Daniel 7 and/or the Similitudes of Enoch.

          And of course, in some places he seems to have been talking about human beings in general – as in the sabbath was made for human beings, and so the human being is lord of the sabbath.

          • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

            Well, I don’t claim to have absolute knowledge in this area, either! ;) I just find the similarities between the phrases in both Ezekiel and in the Gospels striking.

  • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

    If the stories of Jesus forgiving people’s sins are true, then we seem to have a man who thought he had the authority that would normally be only God’s. If it’s true that Jesus said in Matthew that “something greater than the Temple is here,” then we have a man who thought he was more important that the structure that housed the Shekinah of God. If it’s true that Jesus said that if the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had seen him that they would have repented, then we have a man who thought that he was so impressive that even the legendary centers of human depravity would have changed their ways. Certainly, based on NT sayings of Jesus (not even including John’s), Jesus saw himself as very exalted and unique. And if Mark is correct that Jesus received the worship of his disciples, which even angels refuse to accept, then I don’t see how we can avoid concluding that Jesus thought he was God.

    • Robert

      I’m not a scholar, but the I think I’ve read that regarding forgiving sins, the rabbis of the Temple did that as well, sort of like priests do today . Didn’t Jesus also say, “Why do you call me good. Only God is good.”

      • Ricky M

        If I am not mistaken, Only God had the authority to forgive sins. That’s why the Pharisees gave Jesus a difficult time for doing so. He was breaking all their “rules” :) There are many areas in scripture people understand, relating Jesus to be divine and one or whole with God. Regardless of ones beliefs on why, I feel faith is the essential core for that belief.

        • Sean Garrigan

          The NT specifically states, though, that authority to forgive sins can be “given” to men by God:

          “When the crowds saw it, they were awestruck, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matt 9:8).

          • Ricky M

            you are definitely right! I was referring to why Jesus was causing an uproar regarding forgiving sins amongst other things in the eyes of the pharisees. Jesus did give the authority to his apostles.

        • Jerome

          ‘many areas’? like?

          • Ricky M

            It truly is a matter of ones interpretation and ones beliefs. Isaiah offers powerful attributes for the coming messiah. Some also regard the Hebrew name for God Elohim which is plural, as the basis for a Trinitarian or pre existing view. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is also a good example for the father/son unity, or the miracles of Jesus. This very good discussion. Difficult to cover all of our thoughts and ideas, but all are equally important :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Even if one grants those ifs, it does not lead naturally to the conclusion you seem to genuinely believe is unavoidable. The Gospel of Matthew makes clear how the crowd understood Jesus’ statement that “the son of man (i.e. a human being) has authority on Earth to forgive sins” – they rejoice that God had given such authority to human beings. And, if there is a concern to emphasize that humans are not inferior to angels and thus should not worship them, we have a tradition of acceptable worship of (i.e. prostration before) humans that goes as far back as Chronicles depicting Solomon being seated on the throne of Yahweh, and the people worshiping God and the king (one verb, two objects).

      I discuss the topic of worship, as well as other relevant points, in my book The Only True God. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/025203418X/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=025203418X&linkCode=as2&tag=jamefmcgrshom-20&linkId=TXCBE7OZGX4DKIJ4

      • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

        Hi James,
        Thanks for your reply. My book-buying is done for this month. Perhaps next. I assume that you are referring to

        1 Chronicles 29:23

        “Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord, succeeding his father David as king; he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him.”

        But surely this is an abbreviation of the earlier phrase here:

        1 Chronicles 28:5

        “And of all my sons, for the Lord has given me many, he has chosen my son Solomon to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel.”

        I’ve looked up several translations, and none of them translate it as “worshiped him.” All of them translate it as “obeyed him.” Perhaps the translators had a choice between “worship” and “obey,” and opted for the latter based on theological context. I’m curious if the same applies to the Greek word used when the disciples “worshiped” Jesus.

        Regardless, I think my arguments previous to this verse make it clear that Jesus thought he had an exalted and unique status, compared to any other human beings. People glorified God for giving the authority to forgive sins to human beings, because they thought Jesus was merely human. Jesus still said that he was greater than the Temple. If Hurtado’s case is as strong as he says (and apparently Ehrman is now ready to agree that it is), that the early church came to a belief in Jesus’s divinity very early, then it seems it was either based on revelations they thought they had when they thought they saw the risen Jesus; or it was based on thinking the resurrection of Jesus confirmed what he had said about himself; or both. From what I can tell, Hurtado seems to prefer the first alternative. But other than Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, the NT provides no record of other post-resurrection revelations that would indicate that Jesus was God. Based on that fact, I prefer the second or third alternatives.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          1 Chronicles 29:20.

        • Sean Garrigan

          “If Hurtado’s case is as strong as he says (and apparently Ehrman is now
          ready to agree that it is), that the early church came to a belief in
          Jesus’s divinity very early, then it seems it was either based on
          revelations they thought they had when they thought they saw the risen
          Jesus…”

          As Dale Tuggy has pointed out on his Trinities blog, “divinity” is a slippery word. If your meaning is that Jesus was ontologically “God”, then that’s clearly an extrapolation based on assumptions that are made questionable by Hurtado’s very own historical model.

          Hurtado argues that early Christians came to include Jesus as a central figure in the context of their cultic religious practices, making him an object of devotion, because they came to believe via dreams and visions that God required this, and that in doing so they effected a “mutation” in the “shape” of monotheistic worship. What many don’t seem to realize is that once we grant that a mutation occurred, we can no longer assume that old perceived boundaries still apply.

          So, take the old argument regarding “worship” that can be placed in syllogistic form:

          Only God should be worshiped
          Jesus was worshiped
          Therefore, Jesus must be God

          That syllogism has been rendered moot, because the mutation placed us in uncharted territory. If it’s true that early Christians worshiped Jesus because they came to believe that God required that they do so, then the worship of Jesus does not imply divinity; it only implies that those who engaged in practices that some chose to label “worship” did so because they believed that God now required this. As Dale Tuggy pointed out lecture recently, according to this model, one could say that God Himself granted an exception to the rule, as it were.

          • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

            Hi Sean,

            So we have two questions: How did the early (Jewish) Christians understand Jesus’s status? How did Jesus understand his status? I think the evidence is clear that both understood him to be unique and exalted above every other human being. Whether either considered Jesus divine in the sense of being ontologically equivalent to God would be an additional question.

            • Sean Garrigan

              “So we have two questions: How did the early (Jewish) Christians
              understand Jesus’s status? How did Jesus understand his status?”

              Wouldn’t that depend upon what time period you’re referring to? So, while Jesus walked on earth, it would certainly be fair to say that he was fully authorized to act in God’s behalf, and that God had big plans for him. I would say that exaltation came after the resurrection, though. Jesus life is the paradigm of the Biblical model: He who exalts himself will be humbled; he who humbles himself will be exalted (Matt 23:12). Jesus accomplished God’s plan by his faithfulness and absolute obedience to Him.

              • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

                I agree with you that Jesus humbled himself. But that means that he saw himself as in reality being above others, and that he had to lower himself and become their servant. Perhaps using “exalted” isn’t the correct term. I’m not sure how else to describe someone who believes that in reality he is a king who must act like a servant.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Two things:

      -Not every saying attributed to Jesus in the Synoptics goes back to Jesus

      -Regarding the examples you’re citing about forgiving sins and being greater than the Temple . . it’s clear that a message that was a part of Jesus’s ministry was the accessibility of God apart from the ritual cleanliness requirements of the Temple (this anti-Temple motif was already present among several of the OT Prophets, although Jesus took things perhaps a step farther). If one gave his sacrifice at the Temple, the priests would declare their sins forgiven. Jesus declared sins forgiven sans the Temple (yes Jesus saw himself in a unique position to declare this accessibility). But just as the Jewish priests didn’t equate themselves equal to God, such a proclamation from Jesus doesn’t equate to “I am Yawheh.”

    • Jerome

      “If the stories of Jesus forgiving people’s sins are true, then we seem to have a man who thought he had the authority that would normally be only God’s.” > but Jesus thinking he had this authority does not necessarily mean he thought he actually was God since authority can be GIVEN to other people. The apostles also got the authority to forgive sins, does that mean they were God too?

  • D Rizdek

    I did a bit of searching and loved how this essay starts out:

    “Some believe that Jesus was God, and others believe that He was merely a man. Many believe that He was both. These views have been debated for centuries by theologians and scholars. I think it is vital to look at what the Bible—the Word of God—says about the matter.”

    The last sentence is kind of funny…as if the theologians and scholars hadn’t thought of that before…you know, actually reading the Bible.

    http://www.tedmontgomery.com/bblovrvw/JesusGod/

    But seriously, is being God’s son essentially being “God?” Because it seems that a lot of scriptures give us the impression he thought he was God’s son.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “Because it seems that a lot of scriptures give us the impression he thought he was God’s son.”

      In the Synoptics the appeals to “Father” don’t designate Jesus proclaiming himself a literal divine offspring. The term “son of God” had two meanings at that time: i) To designate a truly righteous person, who followed the will of God and ii) As a lampoon of the Roman use of “Son of God” to describe the emperor, who was proclaimed to be divine himself.

      I think the earliest Christians usage of the term Son of God referred to both of these. It wasn’t until the Greek-educated Patristics merger their Platonic notions of divine sons and daughters into the mix that the idea emerged of Jesus being literal divine offspring.

      • Sean Garrigan

        Hi Andrew: Actually, there were four ways in which “Son(s) of God” was used in the OT, which are noted by John Ziesler in his “Pauline Christianity:

        “In Old Testament tradition, Israel was God’s son, as in Hos. 11:1: `Out of Egypt have I called my son.’ See also Exod. 4:22; Isa. 43:6 etc. As the nation’s representative, the king was God’s son, as in 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7. Angels (Gen. 6:2,4; Duet. 32:8) were sons of God, as were in later times outstandingly righteous men (Wisd. 2:10-20; 5:1-5). There is little evidence that the Messiah was so entitled, though there may be an instance in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but as the new and greater David it would have been natural to describe him so (and see Matt. 16:16)…Such ascriptions did not mean that the nation or the king or the righteous man was genetically related to God. Israel rejected any idea of that. Rather, being Son of God meant obedient service to God on the one hand, and divine commissioning and endorsement on the other. In our society we tend to forget that the first thing about a son was that he obeyed his father; therefore calling Jesus Christ Son of God meant first of all that he did what God wanted. He was the obedient one….” (pp. 41, 42)

        James discusses how “Son of God” suggested obedience in John’s Apologetic Christology.

        • Andrew Dowling

          You’re right, I’d forgotten Israel itself being referred to as God’s son. But I think our main points are in congruence . . .a “son of God” was one obedient to the will of God and who served God’s purpose on Earth

          • Sean Garrigan

            Yep, we’re agreed. I’m old, so I leave out things I know (or at least knew) all the time;-)

      • D Rizdek

        I grew up believing that Jesus Christ was one of the trinity…an essential part of the “Godhead,” whatever that means{: But, even as a Christian I often wondered why, if Jesus is just God in another “form” did he seem to have conversations with himself?. “Not my will but thine,” “Let this cup pass from me,” “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” I mean IF he was really God in the form of the son, then was he just saying he was quite pleased with himself. Was he just psyching himself up to go through with the Calvary thing. And what was all this, he was tempted in all things as man? I mean what is temptation to a God?

        So it would have made more sense to me then to think of Jesus as just God’s handpicked and loyal servant.

        Of course that makes the death on Calvary that much worse in my mind. If Jesus was actually God, then I could just think of him getting what he deserved…having been in on creation and corroborating on decisions on how much suffering was going to be permitted and how confused his message was going to become over the centuries. But if he was a separate individual just doing God’s bidding as any Christian would try to do, then even if he was a willing participant, it still seems unsavory for God to use him that way.

        • Arachne646

          If your Christology has to have the crucifixion meaning “Jesus died to save us from original sin”; then, yes, God used him in an unsavoury way. There are other theologies of the crucifixion, and of salvation, that don’t include God requiring a blood sacrifice. Jesus reconciled humanity to God with his crucifixion and resurrection, especially proving that the violent power of Rome had no power over the superior power of love.

          • D Rizdek

            I didn’t ignore your post, I just really didn’t have much more to say on the subject. Thanks for your response.

            I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand what it means/meant to “reconcile” humanity to God. But apparently several other viewers liked what you said because they gave you up arrows{: Maybe I’ll do that too, because at least you seem to understand my view in some small way.

            • Neko

              Just for that I gave you some up arrows. Sorry it couldn’t be more.

              I can appreciate how maybe the early followers of Jesus made sense of the Crucifixion. They believed Jesus was the Messiah. For them, God determined everything, so God must have meant for the Messiah to be crucified. But then, they believed, Jesus rose from the dead. So that must mean…the kingdom was coming, just like Jesus said it would. And it must mean that Jesus was a divine agent.

              I agree that the Crucifixion doesn’t make any sense. Theologically it’s been made to work, of course, in all kinds of disturbing ways.

              I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand what it means/meant to “reconcile” humanity to God.

              I think it just means repentance and harmonization with God’s will, whatever that is discerned to be.

  • Michael Wilson

    James, I have been thinking about the relationship between Jesus and the book of Daniel and I wonder if Jesus interpreted Daniel’s Son of Man as being the collective identity of God’s people. I think that this is the most natural reading of Daniel 7 and it is likely what the initial audience took it to mean, the one like a son of man was like the beast a symbol for people on earth. While in the 200 years between Daniel and Jesus it appears that the identity of the fourth beast was transferred to Rome, I see no reason why Jewish groups that maintained Daniel would not still regard the one like a son of man as meaning the righteous people of the world. If that were the case then Jesus might refer to the son of man as being both distinct from himself and inclusive of himself, as during the trial. Further, the imagery of that vision seems to draw on the older myths of Israel where the high God El hands kingship to his son Yahweh, so perhaps some understood the Ancient one was handing the position of God in some sense to the Son of Man like God in New Testament theology seems to be endowing Jesus with all aspects of himself.

    • Ricky M

      That’s great insight Michael! The term son of man was one of Jesus’ favorite ways to refer to himself and it is fitting as it shows his humility as a lowly servant. Fitting in my opinion as he came as a suffering servant. Jesus was also very knowledgeable in scripture, proud of his Jewish faith. That credits your idea to be very logical and likely!

    • Light Seeker

      Michael Wilson said, “Further, the imagery of that vision seems to draw on the older myths of Israel where the high God El hands kingship to his son Yahweh, so perhaps some understood the Ancient one was handing the position of God in some sense to the Son of Man like God in New Testament theology seems to be endowing Jesus with all aspects of himself.”

      To add to this, in relation to my post below… If, in their post-resurrection interpretation of who they believed Jesus was (incarnation of the Son of Man), the early Christian communities confused the identity of the Son of Man/Shining One/one of the Elohim with the person of Jesus (i.e., they applied Son of Man uniquely to him as a divine incarnation, very different from the rest of humanity) this would explain why Jesus is portrayed as the Judge at the end of days.

      But a modern correlation that shows that each of us is the Son of Man (a Shining One, part of the Elohim of Ps. 82, a light being) are the accounts of near-death experients (aka NDEers). Almost all accounts speak of the life review – the equivalent of Judgement Day — but they relate that it’s not God or Jesus or any council of elders, whom they appear before, that actually judges them. In the review,each NEDer judged him-/herself!

      So, it seems to me that on the other side, we are these luminous divine beings, and WE are the judges. If each one of us has this divine, shining twin, then each of us is also a Son of Man, part of the collective symbol. God has given each of us free will, and thus dominion and judgeship; He loves and supports us, but when it comes to the life review we are each the Son of Man and we each judge our own earthly lives in the end.

  • Tim

    Hi James; I’m curious what your leanings are on this, and why. I’ve kind of gone back and forth, but I’m still on the fence. I was raised to believe that Jesus was definitely God, but I’ve rejected a lot of the theology I was raised with, so I’m still exploring this issue.

  • Light Seeker

    I agree with Michael Wilson on several points. I too think the reading of the “one like a son of man” from Daniel should be as a symbol for the collective identity of the righteous of Israel (that perhaps is being realized/coming now and in the future, along the lines of Jesus’ realized and future Kingdom eschatology). Those who are more enlightened, and sages/mystics, understand that such things seen in visions (or in dreams) are symbols not to be taken literally. I believe Jesus was enlightened enough to understand this symbol in this way – that the righteous, who were currently oppressed, would be those who would come in power, on the clouds of heaven, united as one divine entity; the status quo would be overturned. This meshes well with Jesus’ teaching that the last/least shall be first in the Kingdom.

    Michael also points out the ancient theology from Daniel and other writings (e.g., Enoch) of the Ancient of Days handing over dominion to the young son-like deity whose identity came to be melded with that of a divine Messiah. Coincidentally, I am currently reading The Jewish Gospels by Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin at U.C. Berkeley who points out that ideas of apotheosis (a human being exalted to a divine status) and theophany (a divine being incarnates in human form and thus reveals the divine nature to other human beings) already existed in ancient Jewish writings prior to and during the first century CE, so some Jews, including the followers of Jesus (and so Jesus himself) were adherents of such theologies. Christianity did not create these beliefs/theologies. I’m still reading and digesting the material – it’s fascinating. But where I disagree with Boyarin is his tendency to automatically assume that because an evangelist such as Mark wrote that Jesus said certain things, therefore Jesus must have said these things and believed them himself (which is why his followers believed these things — because their leader, Jesus, did), rather than Jesus’ followers or the evangelist projecting these beliefs onto Jesus post-resurrection.

    Boyarin’s assumption is similar to my beef with other historians of Jesus/early Christianity – it is an assumption that seems to ignore (whether intentionally or from “ignorance”) the strong possibility that Jesus was a mystic/enlightened. We have stories of mystics seeing or encountering a being(s) of light from ancient times to the present (e.g., the Shining One(s) in Enoch/Ezekiel). As most sages teach, sole identification with this being is a trap of the human mind/ego, a
    distraction. There is deeper symbolism behind the being of light. It is oneself (or one’s higher, angelic self), but is also everyone else at once; there is no separation in Spirit.

    I think whether one identifies one’s personal self with that being of light depends on one’s level of spiritual development and understanding or awareness. For example, people with bi-polar disorder, during manic phases can experience a state of self-less or ego-less consciousness (what some call Christ Consciousness) – and without any context for what they experience, some think they are incarnations of Jesus or Budha! Despite how materialist psychiatry might diagnosis it, it’s not insanity, but another state of reality being experienced: the unity of the All and bliss/unconditional divine love (refer to Stan Grof and others). I have had an experience of a being of light (I’m not bi-polar), and the wisdom that came through with the experience is that we are all these beings of light when not incarnated in a physical body. Jesus taught, “You are
    the light of the world” and “the Kingdom of God is within you.”

    A sage who has experienced this understands the difference; one less enlightened only hearing of the experience (Jesus’ disciples and later followers?) might not understand this and confuse the identities. I don’t think Jesus went around telling others he was the Messiah/Son of Man of Daniel. If Jesus shared in private with his disciples visions of a glorified, shining being resembling a human (a “son of man”) – the transfiguration may be such an example; those who “ascend” to the heavens leave the body behind and don shining robes of glory or “whiter than snow” or are transformed into shining beings (remember how Moses’s face glowed?) – and then these stories were passed on to less enlightened followers, the result may have been confusion about identifying the person of Jesus with incarnation of the divine younger God of Daniel/Enoch who was also exalted to God’s right hand/divine status after his earthly life, back to his pre-existent status. When in reality, the shining “one like a son of man” may be symbolic of both one’s higher, divine self and the collective consciousness of a unified body of light beings – who we all are on the other side of the veil. Jesus said that in eternity/the life to come, we’d all be as the angels, who are glorified beings that may also be androgynous, “who neither marry nor are given in marriage”. Even today’s Kaballah masters understand that we all each have the seed within us to be Messiah, God’s anointed representative on earth; indeed, it’s the responsibility of each one of us to be a vessel that brings the love and light of Heaven to Earth; God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Jesus would not have thought of himself in a unique sense.

    I don’t think Jesus would have thought or spoken of himself in a unique sense – as uniquely the Son of God or Son of Man. We have hints (Jn 14:12) that Jesus taught that we could all reach his same level of unity consciousness (as we would describe it today). Too much literalism, especially from a less enlightened consciousness of duality rather than unity, results in the all-too-human (egoic) need to apply complex man-made belief systems (theologies) over top of illusively simple spiritual realities. Too much literalism of visionary experiences/texts without direct experience results in the exaltation of one human being over others, furthering the separation of God
    from humanity – which is the complete antithesis of Jesus’ mission to redeem humanity (heal our distorted perceptions of self and others = sin/error) and draw us all back to union with a loving father-like God. It also explains why (later) depictions of Jesus as the Judging Messiah at the end of days who would separate the sheep from the goats/wheat from the chaff is at odds with the image of a Jesus who taught “Judge not” for it is God’s place alone to judge, not man’s, and “there is only one who is good [God]” and that the same God “sends rain on the just and the unjust”.

    Peace/Shalom/Namaste

    • Andrew Dowling

      Interesting and insightful thoughts. I’ve stated before that while I don’t believe Jesus was Gnostic in any developed sense, his teachings about the Kingdom almost being a state of enlightenment (and requiring human participation, although Jesus certainly did not share any of the Gnostic dualism of material world bad; spiritual world good) correlates some with later Gnostic thought; the Gospel of Thomas shows how this tradition could have easily developed.early on.

      There is definite early tradition found in all of the Gospels (Synoptics, John, and Thomas) in which Jesus appears to profess that his followers can become as great or greater than He is.

      • Light Seeker

        Andrew, I thoroughly concur that Jesus taught early forms of gnosis (small “g”), not full blown Gnosticism.

        And as a sage/prophet/mystic, I think Jesus would have understood the shining one like a son of man to be both his divine self/divine twin as well as a collective for all the righteous children of God — just as I described above, that modern mystics understand the light being to be one’s higher divine/angelic self as well as a collective consciousness of all humanity in unity consciousness/Christ consciousness. I am in you, you in me, we are all in God – there is only one, no separation.

    • nanbush

      Superb distillation of major issues, especially the disconnect between those who have experienced unity consciousness and those who have not –which of course applies not only to the apostles but to so much else in the past two thousand years.

      Many thanks for this splendid analysis.

  • John A. Cancienne

    I’m told by Jewish friends that the term ‘son of man’ is another expression for humans. That has nothing to do with being a son of god, or a god. The trinity concept was not even considered by early Christians. In fact until the Council of Nicaea, with Constantine’s insistence to co opt the trinity concept, there was no such thing as a trinity, and Jesus was not the most important figure in Christianity. If one were to put a proper label onto the religion, it could well be more accurately described Paulianity, for the Apostle Paul did more to change and alter the path Jesus and the early Christians walked than anyone.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      This gets the history of the doctrine, and Constantine’s role at Nicaea, completely wrong. The term was first applied to the subject by Tertullian, but his use of the Latin word for “threeness” did not mark the first step in this direction. There are a great many histories written that trace the development of Christian thought, which you might find it useful to read.

      Also, I am not as persuaded as you seem to be that Paul’s openness to non-Jews was radically at odds with Jesus’ own openness to the excluded and marginalized, even if it went beyond it in certain respects.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “The trinity concept was not even considered by early Christians. In fact until the Council of Nicaea”

      Not true, several 2nd century Patristics articulate the Trinity well before Nicaea, and by the end of the 1st century you already Christians baptising in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

      “If one were to put a proper label onto the religion, it could well be more accurately described Paulianity,”

      While Paul’s missional and theological influence was huge, his influence would’ve been greatly diminished if the Jerusalem wing of the Church (which had Peter, John, James) had not given his preaching to the Gentiles their blessing.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lotharson

    Well I’m not really a Conservative Christian (since I reject the Canon and find some forms of pan-en-theism interesting philosophically) but I do believe that Jesus was more than a mere prophet. Along with N.T. Wright I think He viewed Himself as the new temple embodying God’s presence on earth.

    I once defended the validity of C.S. Lewis trilemma provided Jesus viewed himself as God.

    I’m well aware that Jesus divine sayings in John’s gospel are theological creations .

    But here there is something curious going on here.

    Many critical scholars think that the historical Jesus falsely predicted the end of the world in the Gospel of Mattew
    “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. ” Matthew 24:34

    But if one does this, why could we not also accept the following saying

    “37″Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38″Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!…” Matthew 23:37

    which is located just several verses before Matthew 24:34. It seems rather arbitrary to accept the latter while rejecting the former.

    This verse is intriguing in many respects.

    In it, Jesus implies his divinity while not stating it explicitly, and if it was a theological creation such as in John’s Gospel, it seems strange that Matthew did not make this point much more often and clearly at other places, if such was his agenda.

    What’s more, the presence of Matthew 24:34 (provided it was a false prophecy) has some interesting consequences about the dating and intention of the author.

    1) Let us consider that Matthew made up the whole end of his Gospel out of his theological wishful thinking for proving that Christ is the divine Messiah.

    If it is the case, it seems extremely unlikely he would write that one or two generations AFTER Jesus had perished.
    This fact strongly militates for dating Matthew’s gospel as a pretty early writing.

    2) Let us now suppose that Matthew wrote His Gospel long after Jesus’s generation had passed away.
    He would certainly not have invented a saying where his Messiah made a false prediction.
    It appears much more natural to assume he reports a historical saying of Jesus as it was because he deeply cared for truth , however embarrassing this might prove to be.

    And if that is the case, we have good grounds for thinking he did not make up Matthew 23:37 either.

    I’m not saying that what I have presented here is an air-tight case, it just seems the most natural way to go about this.

    I think that historical events posses objective probabilities, geekily minded readers might be interested in my own approach.

    Best wishes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Thanks for making this interesting argument! How would you respond to the suggestion that Jesus there might be speaking as other prophets had, addressing people in the first person as though God were speaking, but without believing his own identity to be that of God’s? I think that might also fit the related saying, “I will destroy this temple, and in three days rebuild it.”

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lotharson

        That’s an interesting reply, James! Of course I cannot rule this out.

        Still, in the verses before Jesus uses the third person for talking about God:

        “And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

        and verse 36: ” 36 Truly I tell you , all this will come on this generation.” is a typical saying of Jesus he attributes to himself.

        And so it seems to me more natural that Jesus would have said something like:

        ” For Truly God says: ’37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing…”

        if he was speaking about himself just before and now wanted to pass on God’s thoughts to his listeners, yet I recognize this is by no means a knock-down argument.

        So I respect your position, but I think we should not discard the possibility that the “I” used by Jesus in verse 36 might be the same “I” as in verse 37.

        It goes without saying that how to look at this heavily depends on one’s presuppositions.

        Friendly greetings from the cloudy Northern England.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Well, the same sort of switching back and forth between first person of God and the first person of the prophet is found in other prophetic literature, so I don’t see that as a problem. Of course, it doesn’t demonstrate that that is the best way to account for the phenomenon, but I definitely think it is one interpretative option that needs to be considered.

          • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lotharson

            Of course, I agree with this.

    • Andrew Dowling

      You can’t speak about Matthew 24 without mentioning Mark 13, which Matthew copied and added onto. For Mark, the fall of Jerusalem was setting the ground for the end times, and he took some Jesus sayings and added even more apocalyptic language for his own readers (“let the reader understand”) as the evangelist believed the parousia would occur soon or maybe even was already occurring. Mark, writing for a largely Gentile audience, also thought that the fall of Jerusalem represented divine judgement against Jerusalem for rejecting Jesus.

      This is a motif the Church would take and run with for centuries . . .and I think was widely held enough by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel (which was probably a few years to a decade after Mark) that the author would’ve been satisfying readers who equated Jesus’s predictions with the Fall of Jerusalem and those who also thought the parousia would soon occur (general Christian ‘end times are around the corner’ sentiment didn’t really subside until the early 2nd century)

      Now, that all said, I don’t think that relegates Jesus to “only being a prophet.” I, as an act of faith, believe Jesus was uniquely connected to/indwelled with God . . .exactly how, I don’t think is particularly relevant or can be known.

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lotharson

        If I understand you correctly, you think that both the prediction of the impeding end of the world and Jesus lamentation over the city were made up, right?

        Were people from the generation of Jesus still alive as Matthew did this?

        Cheers.

        • Andrew Dowling

          -I think Jesus likely made “judgmental” proclamations about Jerusalem, but no I don’t think the language of the Olivet Discourse (these will be the signs of the end days) goes back to the historical Jesus

          -As for the lamentation over Jerusalem . .the core of it likely goes back to Jesus, but the Gospel authors had no issue with taking sayings in the oral tradition and allegorizing them to make them more relevant for their particular audience. In addition, as the Gospels would have been shared aloud and not read individually, when the reader spoke of “this generation” it meant as much the generation of the listeners as the generation Jesus was speaking to . . although if you want to get technical about, if a hearer of Jesus in 32 AD had been 18 years old, by 75-80 AD they’d be in their 60s . .many (probably most) didn’t live until then but it’s not like people in their 60s and 70s were incredibly rare.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    As I understand things, first century Judaism included the concept of human beings exalted by God and given authority to do things that only God normally did, but did not include the concept of human beings who were actually God. We might therefore expect a writer who viewed Jesus as being actually God to use language that made it clear that he was introducing a new category of interaction between divinity and humanity. The author of John may be doing this, but the Synoptics use the language of God conferring authority, which the readers would have understood as fitting with the known concept of exalted human. I think the default position has to be that the Synoptics were putting Jesus into an existing category absent compelling reason to think that they were introducing a new one.

  • BrotherRog

    For me the matter is moot, for as I see it, all of us “live and move and have our being in God” and each of us have God dwelling within us. We are each a drop in the ocean that is God. – Roger Wolsey

    see more: http://tinyurl.com/obf5wut

    • George Friesen

      Given all of the above, we are left with exactly what? The church is stripped of its doctrine, and the Scriptures of anything to be truly believed. In other words, Christianity is nothing more than misguided mythology, and all than can salvaged is that humanhood should strive for justice and equality. Two thousand years of kerfuffle for basically nothing except basic humanitarian principles. It took all this time for this ultimate enlightenment to come to our modern scholars who have finally grasped the truth. which strangely eluded all the giants of the historic Christian faith. The church, then, is a failed experiment of epic proportions. What a pity! And, BrotherRog above, who is to say that we “live and move and have our being in God”? That we are all a drop in the ocean that is God? Says who, based on what authority? That may be just another strand of “untruth”, like the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation, the salvific consequence of the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. Seriously, people above, I ask, what in God’s name have we left to proclaim? The Kerygma, as perceived by C.H. Dodd and enunciated by Bultmann, all out the window, and we are ending up with no irreducible essentials of the Christian faith, after all. Fright, where were John Crossnan and Marcus Borg, et al. when Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth?” They would have known, obviously, and saved us all a mighty lot of trouble. Things look rather bleak, wouldn’t you all say, what with the Progressive Christian Alliance reclaiming our “hijacked Christian faith,” and this being “it”?

      • BrotherRog

        George, 1) re: who is to say that we “live and move and have our being in God”? Answer: A fellow who used to go by Saul, but who then changed his name to Paul said that. He was an apostle. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

        2) re: “things look rather bleak wouldn’t you say?…” No, not at all.
        Indeed the number of progressive Christians and progressive Christians congregations is on the rise.

        3) re: “What are we left with exactly?
        a) If you want an “exact” answer, I’d refer you to the book “Kissing Fish” as it provides 397 pages of rather exact potential answers – well, as “exact” as progressive Christianity is willing to go.

        b) Progressive Christians believe that Jesus *is* “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that all who follow Jesus’ teachings, Way, and example, by whatever name, and even if they’ve never even heard of Jesus, are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and his Way.

        That said, we’re rather enamored by the uniqueness of the Jesus story and we invite others to join us in sharing that specific journey — even if we feel no dire need to convert them.

        It is this non-exclusive approach to our faith that many young adults find compelling. So we’re evangelistic even as we’re not. ; )

        Ultimately, let’s just be as faithful as we can and not worry about “the Church dying.” We have no fear of death for we follow a savior who gave it all up for the sake of others. Indeed, if we do anything to “attract” people out of desperation on our part, it’ll be fruitless.
        It’s like dating someone who is insecure and anxious — not attractive. Let’s just boldly be who were are — and maybe even more so — yes, more so. Peace.
        - Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

        • George Friesen

          I thank you, Brother Roger, for that sincere reply. I guess, being a “progressive” Christian myself, I weary sometimes of the constant diminishing of and endless denial of what I have always referred to as orthodox Christianity. To me, it ends up being a gospel of unbelief. As me, I will believe that when Jesus said that “…if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” I will continue to believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a Triune God. My belief in the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection and ascension remain unshaken. And, I am going to have a look at Kissing Fish. Thank you again.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            If I might chime in, the words your quote with the preface “Jesus said” are words which the Gospel of John attributes to Jesus, which are quite distinct from those attributed to him by the other Gospels, although the “Johannine thunderbolt” in Q is related to it. When one acknowledges that the words attributed to Jesus in ancient sources cannot be uncritically assumed to be words Jesus actually spoke, that isn’t “unbelief” unless by “belief” you mean unquestioningly and uncritically believing what certain ancient human beings had to say. But if that is what “belief” means then “belief” itself becomes something very dubious and problematic.

            • George Friesen

              Thanks for chiming in, James F. I’m wondering, then, whether Jesus actually spoke any of the words attributed to him in the Gospels. Did he, in fact, institute the Eucharist? Did he ever say that he is the way, the truth and the life, etc., etc. Or, is the mythopoeic mindset telling a story, with the dialogue integral to it? And, just to ask, I thought some biblical scholars were beginning to doubt even the existence of Q. What do we know about it? What can be verified about it? I thought Mark’s reliance upon it was being seriously questioned. No?

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Mark’s reliance on it? Are you sure you thinking of Q? Be that as it may, obviously one need not accept the Q hypothesis to discuss the text I was referring to which is found in Matthew and Luke (obviously).

                Are you aware that historians have been engaged in discussions of the evidence over the course of the past century or so? Or are your questions supposed to be rhetorical, and if so, might I ask for clarification as to what your point was?

                • George Friesen

                  My questions were not meant to be rhetorical, but perhaps I’m out of my depth here. But, forgive an old man’s sketchy memory (it’s been 50 years!). I should have checked the Quelle hypothesis before making reference to it.

        • V743JMR

          The only problem with what you said is that neither Jesus nor His apostles (to whom He gave his authority to teach in his name) taught that. He — and they– taught He is the only way. You can make things up that please you, but that does not mean they please God or that they are so. I don’t get why you even bother with Jesus, since you reject the veracity of the book he caused to be written to teach the world about Himself until he returns. You think you know more than the apostles or even Christ himself knew. How silly.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            You simply assume that he caused a book to be written – which book did you mean? Or did you mean that he caused a library to be compiled? Since you don’t care enough about what Jesus actually said to take these discussions seriously, why bother simply insulting those who care more about this topic than you do?

            • V743JMR

              I am not insulting people. I am speaking plainly about what the Bible says. The Bible insults people. It insults me very often. I thought this was a forum for discussing the Bible. If I cannot state what the Bible says, then what’s up with that? I do take Christ very seriously. But where is it written that I am supposed to take what you or myself or anyone else says seriously? It is precisely because I am taking the situation seriously that I am even commenting here.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                The Bible doesn’t just throw random insults, but in my experience actually challenges people in an honest way. While Paul acknowledges that his audience in Athens is very religious, from what you wrote, it sounds as though you would have said “You are all really atheists since you disagree with me.” It is very common for those who have a blind spot about their own arrogant belligerence to pretend that the Bible speaks just like they do. That is presumably why Jesus cautioned us to beware of commenting on the splinter in another’s eye, when we are prone not to notice the beam in our own.

                Merely speaking publicly doesn’t make clear that you are taking a matter seriously. Some speak publicly because what they take seriously is their belief that they already know everything there is to know about a subject, and now they proudly feel they must inform the poor ignorant masses – many of whom, they resist recognizing, actually know more about the matter under discussion than the arrogant commenter does.

                • V743JMR

                  I am trying to have a serious discussion with you. You are dealing on the personal insult level. I have no silly ideas about the Bible speaking like I do. I said it insults me, because it insults my pride, and it should. God is not in the business of telling us we are ok. He tells us we are not ok, which is why we need a Savior. Otherwise we are bound for eternity in hell. The rest of your comment is just hostility because I have apparently wounded you. I apologize for wounding you. It was not my intention. Can we discuss the issues?

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    We can certainly discuss the issues, but it will be much easier if you stop mischaracterizing people, and then making it worse by saying that it wasn’t you it was them.

          • BrotherRog

            V743, seems to me that we interpret the Bible differently. Here’s how I do it: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2014/01/16-ways-progressive-christians-interpret-the-bible/

            • V743JMR

              I was addressing your comment where on the one hand you say Jesus is the way, but on the other hand you said anyone who follows a “way” similar to that of Jesus is your brother or sister in Christ, even if they worship some pagan god. I assume you think they will spend eternity with Christ.
              The “way” is Christ himself, not the path. Christ is not a path. The “way” is not a reference to a path, but is rather a reference to Christ himself. We are “in Him” if we have been born again.

              I read the things you believe. They are nothing new to me. It appears that people reject the parts of Scripture they don’t want, i.e., that don’t fit with what they already think. They already think a certain thing, and thus scripture must conform to that. Actual faith though is the other way around.

              You say Paul did not write certain epistles. Others of your thinking say Peter did not write his epistles. You say Jesus did not really say certain things. What you are left with is a gutting of Scripture. What is the point????? If you do not believe Scripture, why do you bother with it?
              Do you believe Jesus worked miracles? Do you believe he was born of a virgin? Do you believe he is God?

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Why is asking historical critical questions “gutting the Scripture” rather than being concerned about not being duped and trying to ensure that one has the truth, supported by evidence?

      • Andrew Dowling

        “Christianity is nothing more than misguided mythology”

        If it’s the mythology pulling you towards the faith I think the focus is wrong. We’re not the only religion that claims resurrections and miracle workers.

        “Two thousand years of kerfuffle for basically nothing except basic humanitarian principles.”

        Your basic humanitarian principles (derived from Christian ideals of egalitarianism and inherent individual worth which showed forth in Enlightenment philosophy) have ended slavery in most of the world, expanded human rights, disenfranchised racism, improved the lives of women, ended the acceptability of child abuse . . .doesn’t look “worthless” to me.

        “It took all this time for this ultimate enlightenment to come to our modern scholars who have finally grasped the truth. which strangely eluded all the giants of the historic Christian faith.”

        Progressive conceptions of God and the centrality of works of justice and mercy to the Christian faith are nothing new

        ” . .when Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth?” They would have known, obviously, and saved us all a mighty lot of trouble.”

        To the contrary, creeds and institutional churches always seek to put parameters around “truth” . . .I don’t recall Jesus answering by stating “truth is believing correct doctrine about my impending death and resurrection.”

        • Michael Wilson

          I’ve enjoyed the discussion between you, Andrew and George. I have thought about this a bit while studying the historical Jesus and wondering what it means for my old beliefs and affiliations. One of the conflicts is what to do about a belief in the special role of Jesus Christ when objectively we know next to nothing about Jesus of Nazareth. What is the value of Christianity if Jesus did not himself think he was Christ or if, and objectively we must admit this could be true, Jesus was morally not the person he is portrayed to be.

          First, I think even the writers of the New Testament did not believe that Christianity was only what Jesus said or what apostles thought, but that Jesus as a still present part of the Church could though his followers develop his message. While I think theologically, looking for the authentic teachings of Jesus of Nazareth is a good exercise, Christians ought not discount wholesale theological developments since then as aberrant.

          Second, since objectively it cannot be proved that Jesus was the wisest of men, a morale man or possessing a special relationship with God, ones connection to Jesus cannot be based on objective evidence. It must either must be trusted to be so, and so not something we can demand of others or judge them for, or It must be rooted in the impression that Jesus left in the Gospels and epistles. here think is the foundation of Christianity and its real heart. It is not theological speculation or the real deeds of Jesus of Nazareth that are Christianity but the example of those that say they follow Jesus and the stories written about him. The savior of Christianity is very much effectively the character in Mark, Luke, John etc. While this may invalidate some formulations of Christianity, I don’t think it invalidates totally the church of Christ.

          • V743JMR

            No, I suppose you cannot prove that about Jesus in the secular world, but then the secular world is at odds with God. The Bible teaches that you cannot come to Christ unless God enables you to do so. He does this his way, not your way. And he demands faith. “He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” The answer to Jesus’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” determines your eternal destiny. He said so. “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” God is at odds with the philosophies of man. You are not going to get to God through philosophy. The path is faith.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Blind faith in what an ancient author said? Why not rather humble trust in God, the actual meaning of the relevant terms in the original languages which we render in English as “faith”?

              • V743JMR

                No, it is not blind faith, though in a sense it is, because I have chosen of my own volition to believe the testimony of Christ’s Apostles. But I also understand from Scripture that God through the Holy Spirit enables faith. If I believe God’s word through faith, it is because he has enabled me to do so, because that is what the Bible says. Christ was very clear that Scripture is God’s word and that you do not pick and choose the parts you accept and reject others. He was very clear that he gave his authority to his apostles and that the Holy Spirit would bring all things to their remembrance. That is fairly useful when trying to write down what happened, especially if it is in A.D. 90 when one is writing, many decades after the actual events. So if you think that the New Testament was not actually written by the Apostles or their close associates, then you must believe that the Holy Spirit failed in his promise to bring all things to their remembrance and/or that He failed to protect his word throughout time.
                I Cor. 2:13-14. Paul said this: “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

                That doesn’t mean that the unbeliever cannot understand intellectually what the words are saying. Of course he can. But it means he rejects what the words are saying because it sounds like foolishness to him.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  You have chosen to believe that in the texts of the New Testament, you have the testimony of Christ’s apostles, and then you have chosen to believe that testimony. Those are two stages which I am not willing to leap over without discussion and critical investigation of the evidence.

                  It is much easier to say “you reject this, therefore you must be an unbeliever” than to deal with the evidence. But the problem is that people with any viewpoint whatsoever can do that. And so unless you are going to be a relativist and treat all who make the same appeal to the authority of the texts they choose to follow, and the interpretations thereof which they say are guided by the Spirit, then you need to actually talk about the evidence.

                  • V743JMR

                    I am willing to discuss any of it. Put the evidence out there.

            • Michael Wilson

              The logic in this belief is rather something. That I dusagree by its reasoning means that yes I’m sane and God has doomed me by denying me the gift of believing senses rather than foolishness. God therby condemns by lying about your choices. But I dont think that one need give up on Christianity since it is certain that Jesus did not himself communicate this and sure one ought not be excluded from a religion founded on Jesus for not believing what Jesus also did not beleive.

              • V743JMR

                If you reject Scripture, how do you personally go about discerning what Jesus actually believed?

                Here is a passage to consider: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” I Cor. 2:14.

                • Michael Wilson

                  V743JMR, I use the same methods to discern Jesus’ thoughts as I would anyone else that left comparable records. I understand that this is a dilemma for a Jesus centered religion that Christians will have to deal with. I disagree with your approach since it begins that we must first, and without merit, accept what ever you think is the canon of scripture is true. Yet I don’t hear Paul prefacing his letters with the line, If you aren’t willing to accept that everything in following letter is true, toss it. When Jesus and Paul are described preaching their message, they don’t start with “if the spirit doesn’t tell you that every thing I will say is true, their isn’t much point in listening further” They make reasoned arguments at some level. Paul doesn’t just castigate his critics for not knowing by the spirit that what he says is scripture, he explains his position. And since two believers in the inerrancy of scripture will sometimes disagree as to its meaning, even believing that scripture is true is no sure guide to truth. If I hand you a black box, you may believe that what ever is inside is true, but from looking at the box, their is little you can know about that truth.

                  • V743JMR

                    My real point is that if one does not accept Scripture, there is no other basis for believing in Christ. It is really kind of silly to do so. If I thought the Bible was full of insoluble errors and contradictions and downright lies and that the people whose names are on the individual books did not actually write them, you know what I would do? I would chuck it in the trash and move on. But trying to function in the murky atmosphere of “Well, it’s not true as written, so I am going to try to figure out what is true about it,” is just kind of a useless waste of time. Unless of course you are interested in inventing a totally different brand like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses did. It’s like a person says, “I just don’t believe the Bible. It is too full of miracles and stuff I find preposterous.” But on the other hand they want to hold onto the warm and fuzzy idea of Jesus, Cosmic Good Guy and Sometimes Santa Claus Who Never Gets Mad At Me. I simply cannot make sense of that approach.

                    • Michael Wilson

                      That is one approach, to chuck it in the trash, especially if ones belief is based on the acceptance that the bible as we have it is a reliable guide to Jesus’s deeds and God’s message. I’m hesitant my self to say I’m a Christian. But those earliest Christians did not believe that the New Testament was infallible. They did not have it. They had Peter and Paul who disagreed. Luke had Mark, with which he disgreed and altered. So the early Christians had your dificulty and still believed. I think that they believed despite not knowing him because the imprint of the man found in those teachings and in the lives if his followers convince others that this person who inspired this must be God’s son. What Jesus was in history as a man is irrelevant now. What he is now is the figure of the gospels who is an ideal hero, the figure in the hearts of his followers who is their faithfull comforter and judge of their deeds.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “One of the conflicts is what to do about a belief in the special role of
            Jesus Christ when objectively we know next to nothing about Jesus of
            Nazareth. What is the value of Christianity if Jesus did not himself
            think he was Christ or if, and objectively we must admit this could be
            true, Jesus was morally not the person he is portrayed to be.”

            Michael, I’d propose that through all of the early Jesus tradition, we get a general picture of someone who had an immense effect on those who interacted with Jesus, in conjunction with a picture of someone who both extolled and lived via attributes of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion, saw/experienced the presence of God through those values lived out, and wasn’t afraid to cross pre-forged boundary lines in the process. I think that overall perception is historically reliable and does enable one to get a glimpse of who Jesus was. Whether or not Jesus was “perfect” or was never a jerk on some days is really only a relevant question if one necessitates He become the perfect sacrifice per certain atonement theories.

            I agree one need not discount later traditions simply because they don’t go back to Jesus, although I do think one should not make later tradition as a barrier to those “in” and “out” in the community of Jesus-followers (which is what the Church did and continues to do)

            • Michael Wilson

              Andrew, your right on all those points, but I spent some time studying the lives of a number of contemporary holy men in india, and noticed that a number were real maniacs, but it was hard to tell this from the teachings or testimonies of disciples. Even one tgat starts out well can be caught up in the corruption of having power over others and meglomania. What we know of Jesus can not assure us that he was geninely a decent person. Even if we are 99% sure, it may bedevil any theology that requires Jesus be a good person. I wonder if the solution is to decouple Christianity from Jesus the man and instead make the focus Jesus the legend.

              • Andrew Dowling

                ” I spent some time studying the lives of a number of contemporary holy men in india,”

                Did these men have numerous independent writings about them describing them as non-maniacs? Even the sources we have on someone like Joseph Smith don’t exactly paint a picture of a man endowed with stunning virtue/moral character.

                • Michael Wilson

                  Yes. I think there is reason we ought not to judge, we never really know anyone. Its hard to be dogmatic about someone’s character based on a handfull of events and hagiographies. I was shocked to learn that MLK had a weakness for cocain and hookers and one would never know from their supporters that the Kennedys were louts of the lowest sort who just happened to get their power representing the poor and working class. Jesus appears to be a swell guy but to assert that without doubt is an act of faith. But even if he were secretly a con man or lunitic who got caught up in his scam, the Christian faith would be validated by any of his followers that lived up to the ideal of the Jesus we know, the man in Mark and its derivative stories and the teachings attributed to him. This is not far from the postion of his first followers since they intended themselves to be the living embodiment of Jesus the Christ so that the whole community is Jesus, not just he Nazarene.

  • DAGodwin

    I believe that the whole Jesus as a Demigod started started when the Roman world started to Christianize since the concept of God fathering children has no place in Jewish tradition or belief and is often sited by Jews as the reason that Jesus could NOT be the Messiah.

    • V743JMR

      God did not father a child. The Bible does not teach that. If anyone cites that as a reason for anything, they are in complete error about it.

  • Tim Wilcox

    I believe that the terms “Jesus” and “Christ” are separate, but related terms. Christ is a power – the Creative Binding Force of Love that is the Light that shone forth when the Father called out “Let there Be Light.” This power was bestowed on the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is known as The Christ. When you call on his name, you are connected to the Christ Power, which is “seated” at the “Right Hand” of the Father. This is how you can make sense of the common teaching that Jesus was both “fully man and fully God”. It was a result of his exemplary life of love and service to his fellow man that Jesus earned the right to be called Christ and is the bearer of this title. His character and state of being made him a perfect reflection of God in a human. Doesn’t mean he IS God, but that he displays the characteristics of God, and God’s light shone through him.

  • George Beatty

    “I and the Father are one”. “If you have seen me you have seen the Father”.
    “Not my will but Thine be done.” “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” “No one knows the day or the hour but the Father.” Divine mystery. I don’t have to understand it all to believe it all. God does not have to confine Himself to the limits of my perception.

    • V743JMR

      Also, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” That’s the biggie. No missing what He was saying in that one.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        There are in fact many people who misunderstand what the Gospel of John was saying, just as there are many people who ignore how different the words attributed to Jesus in that Gospel are from those attributed to him in other Gospels, and are happy to simply presume that they can nevertheless be assumed to be the actual words of Jesus, as unlikely as that is historically.

  • Guest

    Of the sayings that are attributed to Jesus in our Gospels, therefore, we can take any, or all of them, and say “Jesus didn’t really say that: That was added later by the Christian community.” Just like the Evangelical/Fundamentalist civil religion of America, we can basically re-create Jesus in the image we would like him to be/have been. Why fault evangelicals for anything they believe about Jesus, because progressive Christians do fundamentally the same thing? To say that, “We simply do not find in Paul or in our earliest Gospels a depiction of Jesus as one who thought he was God,” is of huge consequence, and the implications of a statement like that for Christian theology is nothing short of humungous. I believe we find exactly that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      The difference between a historical-critical approach and what you describe is that a scholarly approach cannot so easily get away with simply choosing what one personally prefers, since there stands a community of people with similar expertise ready to challenge your evaluations on the basis of the methods used and the evidence appealed to. That approach is designed precisely to provide a check against the instinct that Christians (not just progressives by any means) have to find in Jesus exactly what we hope for or think we should.

      • Guest

        I appreciate that answer and, actually, I am aware of that approach. It seems to me, however, that for every biblical scholar that would agree with the assertion that Jesus did not claim to be the Son of God, there would be an equally qualified and highly respectable biblical scholar who would disagree. N. T. Wright comes to mind. I’m thinking, therefore, that if these kind of “knock-out” blows are to be delivered in the “rescue” of authentic Christianity from the highly morphed political/religious civil religion in North American, they ought to be delivered with a sense of modesty and qualification, such as “It would appear that….,” because whoever wrote the initial post here, most certainly does not have the final word. It is a thesis, and no more for now.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          It is an important point that you make, but I would add that I think that, if you read Wright’s carefully nuanced language, you’ll find that “Jesus thought that he was God” doesn’t depict it accurately. You can also read someone like Ben Witherington’s The Christology of Jesus and you’ll see that he would say that Jesus didn’t claim to be God, but that the later Christological formulations are an appropriate way of expounding the impact of who Jesus was. Most Evangelical scholars acknowledge that the historical Jesus didn’t claim to be God, although they often formulate things in such a way as to avoid offending the conservative constituencies in churches.

          • Guest

            Thank you for engaging me in this discussion. I will admit that I find the whole thing immensely disturbing and threatening to my faith. For me, it diminishes everything, and I am left wondering, as I stated yesterday, what happens to the church’s understanding of the incarnation, the salvific consequence of the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, the parousia, as we have hoped for it? Can we even repeat the Nicene/Apostles creeds. And finally, I look forward to you telling me who Jesus claimed to be. Did he not ask Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I can appreciate where you are coming from. I expect that your faith is part and parcel with certain factual assertions about God, and perhaps other matters. I would make the case that human faith, at its core level, cannot but be a humble attitude of recognition of our inability to know many of the things we would like to know with the degree of certainty that we would like to know them – in short, an acknowledgment before God that we are not God.

              I don’t see why your conclusions about this particular issue would prevent you from saying the Apostle’s Creed, or accepting Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question.

            • V743JMR

              The only reason you are finding this disturbing is because you, possibly a believer in Christ the Son of God, are engaging in conversation with people who do not believe Jesus is the Son of God. They are for all practical purposes atheists or possibly members of some cult that denies the deity of Christ. Why are you asking them who Christ claimed to be? Do you think they have that answer? They do not believe the Bible. However, no intelligent person can read the Bible and deny that Jesus claimed to be God. He said it over and over in various ways, including straight out. His Apostles referred to him as God, such as when Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God.” Why are you looking for answers amongst atheists and unbelievers?

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Pretending that you alone are the one who determines what constitutes Christianity, and then misrepresenting both those with whom you disagree and the New Testament, is unlikely to fool the sort of well-informed commenters that frequent this blog.

                Can you find an instance of Jesus saying he is God, or being called God, in one of the Synoptic Gospels? Can you find an instance of him being called God that cannot be mistaken for an exclamation to God rather than a description of Christ? And how do you interpret the statement in John 17:3 that the Father is “the only true God”? Or the depiction of Christ handing the kingdom over to God in 1 Corinthians 15 so that “God may be all in all”?

                Pretending that there are no issues of interpretation that deserve discussion here indicates that you are either dishonest or simply poorly informed about the Bible, and reflects very poorly on you. That you need to call other Christians “atheists” shows that you don’t actually have arguments against the points being made and so have to resort to trying to attack the character and faith of those you disagree with – and that makes your stance seem weak rather than convincing.

                • V743JMR

                  (1) If I misrepresented you, I sincerely apologize. That is not my intent.
                  (2) Let me ask you this: Do you believe the tenets of any particular sect? It helps to know if I am discussing things with a progressive, a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, an atheist, an agnostic, etc.

                  (3) “Can you find an instance of Jesus saying he is God, or being called God, in one of the Synoptic Gospels? ”

                  Answer: Please tell me how the absence of something in three gospels, but its presence in the fourth, renders it untrue. We can start with that.

                  (4) “Can you find an instance of him being called God that cannot be mistaken for an exclamation to God rather than a description of Christ?”
                  Answer: Regardless of what someone considers a statement that could be mistaken for some other meaning (and people can do that for every word of the Bible or any other writing or conversation), it actually is whatever it really is. Any passage in the Bible can be scrutinized for an alternative meaning, especially if a person is already predisposed in that direction. If Thomas was definitely referring to Christ Himself when he said, “My Lord and My God,” what is your logical basis for saying he wasn’t? He saw the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and his side, and thus realized Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead and was in fact God. Tell me why not. We can go passage by passage if you like, and I am willing to do so, but let’s start with that one. Why does that passage not mean exactly what it says?

                  (5) “And how do you interpret the statement in John 17:3 that the Father is “the only tru e God”? Or the depiction of Christ handing the kingdom over to God in 1 Corinthians 15 so that “God may be all in all”?”

                  Answer: John 17:3-5: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

                  I interpret it that God is the only true God, that God sent Christ, that the Son glorified the Father, and that Christ existed with God before the world existed. How exactly do you think that contradicts that Christ is God? The teaching of the Trinity is that it is three separate persons who are simultaneously one. There is no possible way for finite brains to comprehend that. Jesus was God in the flesh yet was fully God. I have no idea how that could be, but the Bible definitely states that it is. I understood long ago that my pea brain cannot fathom the infinite. Ditto for my comprehension of I Corinthians 15.

                  (6) “…so have to resort to trying to attack the character and faith of those you disagree with…”

                  It is not my desire or intention to attack anyone’s character. It seems to me that the spirit of this blog is that people who accept the Bible on its face are ignorant, unintelligent and uneducated. If you are permitted to have that attitude, should you not permit me to have mine? Can we not just speak plainly and honestly with one another? I have no desire to insult you at all. But I do have a desire to speak plainly and honestly. Here is the reality: the Bible has very definite things to say about people who do not believe Scripture. If I quote those, it is not for the purpose of insulting you or anyone else. Since it is the Bible we are discussing, it seems to me we should both be able to state what the Bible says, including if it says things insulting to either you or me.

                  Can we agree that a person who guts Scripture is one who does not believe it as given, and thus is carving it up into something he can accept? Thus we have things like the following: “God just could not be that vengeful, wrathful deity revealed in the Old Testament, therefore I reject that.” “God just could not be so uncaring as to not want gays to marry, so I reject that part of the Bible.” “Jesus just could not have been so insane as to think he was God, so I reject that.” “We all know there is no such thing as miracles, and Jesus certainly did not work miracles, so I reject that part of Scripture.” “Paul’s attitudes were just too bigoted and archaic to be applicable today, so I reject them.” And so on. So perhaps comparing that to atheism is a little strong, but what is accurate is that the outcome of gutting Scripture is that it renders whatever your belief happens to be into something totally other than the beliefs presented in Scripture. It creates a different faith altogether. By progressive standards (not my standards), the Bible, including Matthew through Revelation, is a very bigoted book. It is definitely anti-gay. No doubt about that. It is misogynist (by progressive standards, not my standards) in the sense of women being in subjection to their husbands and being the “weaker vessel” etc. It is also full of things impossible for any “thinking” modern person to believe (by progressive standards, not my standards), such as Jesus being God in the flesh and having died for the sins of the world, etc. These kinds of things are in the very weave of every word on every page. You cannot just pull things out. The Bible is a book that you either accept on its face or you walk away. There is no logical in-between state. Gutting scripture is to exist in some murky never-never land that has no logical basis at all. I have a strong logical basis for believing the testimony of Christ’s apostles regarding what they witnessed, i.e., I believe their testimony. What is your logical basis — since if you reject what they wrote, you do not believe their testimony?

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    I’m an American Baptist, and it is very hard to have a conversation with you scattered in lots of comments all over the place. Can’t you stick to one thread?

                    You wrote:

                    The Bible is a book that you either accept on its face or you walk away. There is no logical in-between state.

                    That is simply nonsense. Historical investigation of texts regularly indicates that there are things in them which the evidence confirms, things it doesn’t confirm or deny, and things which other evidence shows to be wrong. This is like saying that if your parents were not perfect then you should just ignore everything they said.

                    The absence of something in early texts, until it begins to appear in later texts, suggests that something was most likely not part of that tradition until the later authors introduced it.

                    Offering word salad and then appealing to mystery doesn’t make for a convincing interpretation of the John 17:3 in the context of that Gospel, understood in turn in the context of its place in early Christian thought.

          • ChuckQueen101

            Yes, I so much agree with that. If evangelicals who have bought into Wright and Witherington would just teach what they have learned to their churches, the evangelical community could make some real strides forward and be taken more seriously by thinking people.

            • V743JMR

              I am not interested in being taken seriously by “thinking” people (your definition, not mine), nor are most people who believe the Bible. What are you trying to achieve? If you think Jesus was just a man who died and rotted in the grave, what is your deep interest in him about? If you think he was nothing more than a philosopher, why are you a follower of a dead philosopher?

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                If you have no interest in thinking people, I presume you’ve managed to find a copy of the Bible that was not copied or translated by such thinking people, and to read it without having learned the relevant languages from thinking people? This anti-intellectualism backfires when it is pointed out that your claim to “believe the Bible” cannot be separated from the work of thinking people to make that available in your language. And so your stance is hypocritical and frankly offensive.

                http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2010/12/challenge-to-anti-intellectual-christians.html

                • V743JMR

                  I happen to be a thinking person myself. But it is the nature of the thinking that is under discussion. You are making an assumption that there is some kind of anti-intellectualism in my attitude. That is a false assumption. If your attitudes cannot withstand scrutiny without your being insulted, does that mean that inwardly you are not secure in them? Can we not speak frankly? And if we can’t, then we aren’t really thinking people.

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    Then offer scrutiny, and not the denigration without substance that you have been offering thus far. I am not assuming you have an anti-intellectual attitude. It is based on what you have said about scholars and even “thinking people” more generally. If you wish to give a different impression, then please make a different impression. But don’t behave consistently in one way and then complain that people draw the natural conclusions based on your words and behavior.

                    • V743JMR

                      It would have been nice to have had a discussion. But you remain on the personal level. I’m sorry about that.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Do you really think that you are the first troll to try these tactics, engaging in ad hominem attacks and then, when people draw appropriate conclusions about your character and aims, you accuse them of doing what it was you who did? Consider yourself banned. Contact me off the blog if you decide to repent and think you can behave in a Christian manner, or even merely as a respectful human being.

                • Jim

                  I think maybe V743JMR subscribes to the view that the1 Cor 1.26,27 motif is implying that God only calls those who have shit for brains.

              • http://www.chuckshingledecker.com/ Chuck Shingledecker

                Perhaps for the same reason millions of people find other teachers and philosophers interesting? If Jesus wasn’t God doesn’t make him uninteresting. In fact, that attitude demonstrates the low view you actually hold for Jesus. The only reason you find his teachings and philosophy at all compelling is because you better because God said it? Doesn’t say much for WHAT he actually taught, does it?

        • V743JMR

          Frankly, it matters not which scholar said what. It comes down to statements like this by Jesus: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Anyone with any knowledge of scripture knows beyond doubt he was saying he is God. Certainly the Pharisees to whom he said that knew he was saying he was God and were ready to stone him for it. This whole discussion is so silly actually. Jesus said He was God, and he said it more than once. It’s right there in (usually) red print in the Bible. Accept it or reject it, but to question whether or not he said he is God is just silly.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            Here we are talking about the historical figure of Jesus, and not the very distinctive later depiction of Jesus in the Gospel of John. But even there, he indicates that he is not saying “I am God” but that he has been given the divine name – otherwise, his statement “you will know that I am, and that I do nothing of myself, but only the will of him who sent me” make no sense.

            • V743JMR

              The fact that the gospel of John may have been written many decades later does not render it non-historical. If you think so, tell me how. It is a failure to comprehend what Scripture is teaching to fail to comprehend that although Jesus was God, he put himself happily into submission to God. Yes, that is incomprehensible to the finite mind. You seem to want to reduce God to a being your mind can grasp. Personally, I would really not want that kind of God and am relieved that Scripture does not ask me to believe in that kind of God. If my mind can grasp Him, something is wrong. He is infinite. He is beyond anything I could ever hope to comprehend. So it is totally possible (and is in fact what Scripture plainly teaches) that Jesus in his earthly ministry deferred to God constantly, although he himself was God and constantly said so.

              If you belong to or agree with a sect such as Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses, then I already know you do not accept Christ as he is revealed in Scripture… so much so that they have their own “scripture” rewritten to embody what they already want to believe for whatever reason. That is a different faith though. One of the main ingredients of their thinking is to deny that Christ is God, and also that God is God (Mormons have a very skewed view of God, believing him to not have existed from eternity past, and certainly not believing that Christ is God). So it looks like there is a convergence of progressive thinking with Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                I am an American Baptist. Your suggestion that I am the one who wants to reduce God to what my mind can grasp suggests that you have not only not read what I’ve written on this blog over the past several years, but you’ve also not read your own comments.

                The issue is not the date of the Gospel of John. The issue is that it depicts Jesus differently than the other three Gospels, and the words it attributes to Jesus are in the same style, with the same characteristic vocabulary, as is found in the narrator’s words and in the Johannine Epistles. It is the evidence from the text itself, and not merely its date, that raises the historical issues.

                • V743JMR

                  Is there any way to persuade you to stop being so hostile? Are you not accustomed to being challenged? Thank you for telling me you are Baptist. That is useful information. I am justified in wondering if you are Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, because they deny that Christ is the eternal God. You seem to do the same.

                  You referred to John’s gospel as a “later depiction of Jesus.” That explains why I made a reference to when it was written.

                  How about if you state very briefly the problem with the gospel of John being in the same style as his epistles. That is what I am getting from your statement. No, I have not spent my life studying what all the naysayers are saying. There will always be naysayers right up until the time Christ returns. I am primarily concerned with studying what Christ is saying in his word.

                  What I mainly get from your statements is that you do not believe Jesus is God. That is the most basic denial of Christ there is. I accept the Bible on faith. There is absolutely no way to know what Christ said without the Bible. And Christ said it is his very words that will judge us in the end.

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    Perhaps you are engaging in projection. Your tone here was hostile from the outset. There has been no hostility on my part. I am discussing these things with you out of genuine concern, since you seem to hold very firm views about matters that you actually know little about.

                    You might want to read a commentary on the Gospel of John by a scholar in whatever Christian tradition you are connected with, if any. The things I mentioned are common knowledge.

                    If you simply accept the Bible on faith, presumably it is OK if someone else accepts the Qur’an on faith, since it is not a choice that can be based on evidence? It seems to me that this stance of yours is more dangerous to the Christian faith than anything said by people on this blog who disagree with you.

                    • Sean Garrigan

                      This exchanged reminded me of the following words of your mentor, Jimmy Dunn, who, in discussing unique features of GJohn vis a vis preexistence and divine sonship, stated that:

                      “The upshot of all this is that, despite the renewal of interest in the Fourth Gospel as a historical source for the ministry of Jesus, it would be verging on irresponsible to use the Johannine testimony on Jesus’ divine sonship in our attempt to uncover the self-consciousness of Jesus himself….[snip]. Consequently, in looking for the origin of a christology of sonship in the sayings and life of Jesus we are forced back upon the upon the Synoptic material…(Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origin of the Doctrine of the Incarnation), pp. 31, 32

                      This was old news when Dunn penned the observation over 30 years ago.

          • Sean Garrigan

            You’re over-interpreting John 8:58, and drawing a false conclusion from said over-interpretation.

            The Greek at John 8:58 fits an idiom described by grammarian Kenneth McKay as the “Extension from Past”, which occurs when a present tense verb is “used with an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications.” (A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: An Aspectual Approach), p. 41, 42

            Based on this understanding of the Greek, McKay offers this English equivalent of what Jesus meant:

            “I have been in existence since before Abraham was born.”

            Note how exquisitely this understanding of Jesus’ words fits in context. From Jesus’ previous statement, his opponents inferred that he was claiming to have seen Abraham while Abraham rejoiced over seeing his day. The exchange, understood this way, is simply irresistible:

            “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’ ‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ they said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’ ‘The truth is, I have been in existence since before Abraham was born!’”

            John 8:58 therefore certainly tells us that Jesus preexisted his earthly birth, but it doesn’t tell us that he preexisted as God.

            His opponents didn’t try to stone him because they thought that he claimed to be God; they tried to stone him because his words not only implied that he was greater than Abraham, but they constituted an outlandish lie (in their minds), and this would have been seen as making God a liar. According to the Shaliah principle, “the agent is as the principal himself”.

            Jesus uttered those words in the context of fulfilling his commission as God’s agent, his living breathing power of attorney, and therefore, legally, his words were as God’s words, so if he lied, then he made God a liar. He didn’t lie, IMO, but his opponents would never have allowed themselves to accept his claim.

  • R Vogel

    ‘The only people who think that Jesus was viewed as a divine figure from the beginning are some very conservative Christians on the one hand , and mythicists on the other. That in itself is telling.’

    Interesting point. It seems to mirror the fact that only very conservative chrisitians and atheists ascribe to a literal reading of the scriptures…

  • guest

    ‘some very conservative Christians’
    Wait, what? Wouldn’t most Catholics, at least, claim that his disciplines saw Jesus as divine from the very beginning? In fact, I’m never heard the idea that Jesus wasn’t regarded as divine until a few months ago. Don’t most mainstream Christians believe the gospels were more-or-less accurate?

    • V743JMR

      And credible scholars believe that as well. It is mostly atheists and sophists who like to dabble in talk about Jesus never saying he was God, etc. There are also people who like the cozy idea of Jesus, but who are really not interested in who He actually is (i.e., the divine Son of God who is equal to God). Also, there are groups such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who have a very skewed view of who Jesus is. They use his name, but they deny his full deity. They claim to worship God, but deny His deity, such as that he has existed eternally. They believe strange things about God having a wife and Satan being Jesus’ brother. These kinds of ideas get going when people abandon Scripture and follow their own flights of fancy, fueled by narcissism usually.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Your many comments here thus far do not give the impression that you are one who has sidestepped the perils of narcissism, nor one who gets details about what scholars think right.

        • V743JMR

          I believe man is a fallen creature because God says in his word that man is a fallen creature. Do you believe that man is a fallen creature? The primary sin of man is narcissism. It is the motivation in everything, even the most unselfish of unselfish acts. We cannot escape our extreme self-centeredness and focus on self. So am I narcissistic? No doubt. And so are you and everyone else. What details about scholars do I have wrong?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            I have yet to see you get any details right about what scholars say. How about if you mention them by name and quote what they have to say in their own words?

            • V743JMR

              How many hundreds of scholars should I name, going all the way back to the first century? The body of scholarship verifying that the Bible we have today is the same one that developed in the first century is just too huge to delineate. It would take fifty years, and is just a silly exercise. No,
              the burden of proof is upon you to show why the solid scholarship through the centuries is just wrong. Go for it.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Um, no, I am not talking about ancient Christian authors, I am talking about scholars. I produce scholarship for a living. You have yet to show that you know what that word means or cite a single scholarly author that you have read. No need to provide a hundred examples. Just some indication that you have informed yourself and have some sense of what the scholarly consensus is, where there is one. I am obviously not asking you for something unreasonable, as you tried to suggest. I am asking for even a smidgeon of evidence that you take these matters seriously enough to inform yourself about them.

                Of course, even if we were talking about ancient Christian authors, you haven’t shown that you know anything about what they wrote either…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Most mainstream Christians recognize the need to apply the methods of historical study to the Bible, and most scholars, including relatively conservative Christian ones, recognize that the historical Jesus did not claim to be God in our earliest Gospels.

  • ChuckQueen101

    I enjoy these kinds of discussions, but it was a significant point in my faith journey when I realized that what I believe about Jesus is not nearly as important as following the way of Jesus (see my post on “Faith Forward” – “Faithfulness is more important than veneration”). Obviously, I have to believe some things about Jesus if I am going to follow Jesus: I must believe that he embodies a transformative path and that his life and teachings will make me a better person, but I certainly don’t have to believe he was God in the flesh.

    • V743JMR

      No, you do not have to believe he was God — unless you want to spend eternity with him. He said, “Unless you believe I am He, you will die in your sins.” And to die in one’s sins meant to spend eternity separated from God in the place Jesus described very graphically as hell.

      I don’t get you people who want to make up your own version of Jesus. It is so thoroughly irrational. Are you a member of any particular sect?

      • Tony Prost

        You got your own version of Jesus. Don’t I get the same privilege? Oh, wait, I forgot, you are right and I am wrong!

  • V743JMR

    Other than people who do not believe in Jesus and who like to chitchat about him in a very secular way…. I really do not understand people who seem to want to be attached to Jesus, but just don’t want him to be anything other than a simple human being and nothing more. I suppose that way they do not feel answerable to anything larger than themselves.

    Statements like this are absurd: “The only people who think that Jesus was viewed as a divine figure from the beginning are some very conservative Christians on the one hand , and mythicists on the other.” Are you kidding???? Why are you even discussing this in the first place? If it were not for the Bible, you would know nothing about Jesus. And since you dismiss the Bible, why are you even talking about Jesus? It’s so strange!

    Jesus said he was God…. over and over and over. His followers believed He was (and is) God… “My Lord and My God,” his Apostle Thomas said to Him.

    This discussion is almost humorous were it not so sad. But the best word to describe it is irrational.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      So far you have offered that verse over and over again, as though it were a clear evidence for your position. The fact that you have not looked into the matter to and depth and have not considered alternatives reflects badly upon you, and doesn’t make your stance more convincing. If you want it to be, you will have to stop merely insulting people and actually tackle the evidence – the ones that don’t seem to support your viewpoint, and not just the prooftexts which do when taken on their own.

      • V743JMR

        I am reading your comment from my email inbox, so I don’t know which passage you are referring to. Possibly you are referring to when Christ stated, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Scholars through the ages have looked into that passage in depth and have come to the conclusion that Jesus was telling those people he was God. As I said, it is clear that the people who heard him say it were convinced he was saying he was God, because they wanted to kill him. You have to twist things to make him saying something else. For my edification, tell me what you think he was saying.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          You seem to think that the appropriate way to read the Bible is to pull individual verses out of context. You are happy to point out that people wanted to kill Jesus, but seem not to care whether the author of the Gospel of John thinks that this response indicated a misunderstanding of Jesus. In John 5, Jesus’ response to the claim that he was making himself equal to God, is for him to emphasize that he makes/does nothing of himself, but that he is completely dependent on and submitted to God. The same is emphasizes in John 8. And so I understand that chapter to involve a challenge to recognize Jesus as the one in whom the very name of God – “I Am” – had become embodied in a human life, which the author of that Gospel does not seem to understand as entailing a claim to Jesus being God in the sense that you appear to be assuming. If it were, then the statement in John 17:3 would make little sense, as would the emphasis on Jesus doing nothing of himself, but being dependent on the one that he calls “the only God” (John 5:44).

          • V743JMR

            I already went through all that. There is absolutely no reason to view it like you are saying, unless one is trying to get it to say something he already has decided, i.e., that Jesus is not God. Jesus made himself equal to God. The writer of John is the Apostle John. There is no reason to believe otherwise. In another post I explained that while Jesus is God, while on the earth He submitted himself completely to God. I said there is no way for you or me to comprehend how the Trinity operates since it is beyond our capacity to comprehend. But one thing is clear: Jesus said he was God. If you go through all of these contortions in order to prove to yourself that he is NOT God, then that is your own deal. The Bible is clear that we will answer for who we say Jesus is.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              No, on the contrary, you are starting with later creeds and the doctrine of the Trinity, and reading them back into the New Testament, ignoring the monotheistic context of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

              I am not going through contortions. I am asking about the details of the text considered against the background of its historical context, and asking why you choose to go through the contortions that you do.

              • V743JMR

                The essence of what you are saying is that you do not accept the Bible as we have it today. Show me your proof that Christ’s Apostles did not believe in the Trinity. Let’s start there. As for what the Jews believed, that is irrelevant, considering they did not accept the Messiah in the first place.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  No, that is not the essence of what I am saying. Your dishonesty is showing again. You are ignoring the fact that not only the term Trinity, but also the core elements thereof, are not found in the New Testament. If you accept the authority of the Council of Nicaea to accurately expound the implications of the New Testament, just say that. But don’t pretend that the centuries of intervening debates and developments didn’t happen.

                  As for your bizarre antisemitism that pretends that Jesus and his earliest followers were not Jews, and that was not the framework for their thinking and writing, I will simply say that that is more disturbing than anything else you have written on this blog so far.

                  • V743JMR

                    Why are you accusing me of dishonesty? That’s kind of surreal, but anyway…

                    No, the word Trinity is not in the Bible. Why does it need to be? It is a word used to describe a teaching that is in the Bible in plain language. Yes there have been debates. And there always will be until Jesus returns, because there is always someone who does not want to accept God’s word for things. The fact that there are debates does not mean the debates have merit. You need to prove the merit of the debates. Otherwise, we accept God’s word on faith. Faith is his requirement. He requires of us that we accept on faith that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, died for the sins of the world, and that he rose from the dead on the third day, and then ascended back to the Father. If you are a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness or something similar, you do not believe that, and you have your own altered “scriptures.” You do not believe that Christ is who he said he was; you say he never said that. But that is ridiculous. The written teachings of the Apostles was referred to by early church “fathers,” thus validating they were indeed written in the first century. Some of those fathers knew the Apostles, or were very familiar with their disciples. So there is a chain-of-command kind of verification there.

                    How about if we go verse by verse and you demonstrate why the Bible we have today is false. Give the evidence for that.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      If it seems surreal to you, then you must have some very serious blind spots. Your attitude is likely to be a stumbling block to your accepting what anyone says if they try to point these things out to you.

                      You wrote “Otherwise we accept God’s Word on faith.”

                      That only works if you already know something is God’s Word. But the Bible itself claims to be the writings of human beings, and we know the process by which human beings discussed and debated which such works to include in their collections of important writings.

                      But even if I were to accept your unjustified assumptions about what the Bible is, and make a leap of faith about the appropriateness of simply accepting what it says, them I would presumably start with Jesus’ statement that the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, is the greatest commandment, and it asserts an undiluted monotheism rather than a Trinity. And so why should I then make an additional leap of faith and accept your interpretations of the Gospel of John which are at odds with that most important commandment?

                    • Jim

                      “How about if we go verse by verse …”

                      Matt 12.40 “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

                      So maybe V743JMR can explain to me how you can fit three literal nights between a Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning. If Jesus was wrong, does it mean that Jesus wasn’t the Son of Man because his timing was off a bit?

          • Sean Garrigan

            James: First, I want to commend you for the level of patience you’ve demonstrated in this dialogue.

            I was wondering if you could clarify something for me. What is the basis for your assumption that EGO EIMI was considered God’s name in the biblical period?

            I’ve pointed out in the past that God didn’t say EGO EIMI EGO EIMI at Ex. 3; He said EGO EIMI HO ON. So if you’re basing that assumption on the notion that Jesus was speaking as God did in Ex., then I don’t see how that works. Jesus would have had to have said EGO EIMI HO ON for such a connection to be plausible, IMO.

            On the other hand, if you’re basing that assumption on God’s use of EGO EIMI in Isaiah, as some others have, mistakenly, it seems to me, I’d find that equally dubious. Margaret Davies, in her response to Raymond Brown, who attempted to connect Jesus EGO EIMI sayings in GJohn to YWHH’s EGO EIMI sayings in Isa. as a means of identifying Jesus as YHWH, noted that such a connection is: “…merely
            fanciful, an attempt to find later Catholic christological doctrine in
            the Fourth Gospel.” (Rhetoric and Reference in the Fourth Gospel), p. 85

            Are you basing your view primarily on a scholarly consensus, or are you basing it on evidence that I may have overlooked? As you’ve probably noticed, when it comes to subjects that I’ve delved into deeply, I don’t put too much emphasis on consentire unless such is supported by compelling evidence.

            Since this thread is becoming a bit cluttered, it might be helpful to initiate a new blog post on the subject: “EGO EIMI: God’s Name?”, or something similar.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              A separate post on this is a good idea. I’ll see if I can share at least enough to start that conversation by tomorrow…

              • Sean Garrigan

                Thanks, I’m looking forward to it!

                As I’ve said, I think that your interpretation of John 8:58 is unique and thought-provoking, it fits the agency paradigm that is so patently at work in GJohn. I have trouble making sense of it in the flow of the dialogue, though, whereas taking the Greek as an instance of the Extension from Past idiom renders a response that fits exquisitely in context, IMO.

  • Joseph

    “We simply do not find in Paul or in our earliest Gospels a depiction of Jesus as one who thought he was God.”

    Romans? Philippians? Those both do. Blatant statements of being the messiah are what angered the Jewish ruling counsels. Claiming to be God was their basis for crucifying him, a point that Jesus did not argue. “Truly this man was the Son of God.” How much more literal do we want. Philippians 2:6. Romans 9:5 etc etc etc. the reasons they had to make a creed hundreds of years later was that before that, the common beliefs accepted amongst Christians was that Jesus was God. The creeds didn’t just invent new beliefs, they simply affirmed the prevelant beliefs as a guard against heresies that arose.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Philippians 2:6 says that Jesus was “in the form of God” which many interpreters think is an allusion to Paul’s Adam Christology, since Adam was said to have been created in the image and likeness of God. Hence his making a different choice than Adam, and being highly exalted by God as a result. Your understanding of the creeds is appallingly inaccurate – I would recommend reading Hanson’s The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God but it is an enormous volume. Still, you ought to inform yourself at least superficially about their history and the debates that led up to them, in which it was common for all involved to assert that their stance was simply what Christians had always believes, while their opponents were heretics. Rarely if ever did this simplistic characterization accurately depict the situation.

      Why do you understand “son of God” and “Messiah” to indicate divinity, given that they did not have such connotations in the Judaism of this period?

  • Daniel Merriman

    Disquis and my tablet don’t play well together, so please excuse me if this point has been made earlier in the comment thread. What surprises me is how much Ehrman finds himself in agreement with Larry Hurtado about how early “high” Christology “erupted”, as opposed to “evolved.” I’m just a layman, but it seems to me that the devotion given to Jesus as God, or equal to God, by his earliest followers, would not make sense if there was not some basis in Jesus’ remembered teachings.

    Since I first read Hurtado a decade or so ago, I have questioned “Messianic consciousness” scholarship that doesn’t deal with, to me, the implications of this early exaltation of Jesus. You linked to Hurtado’s blog, in addition to his remarks there, he also will have a review of Ehrmann’s latest in a forthcoming “Christian Century”. The title of your post seems to me to be overly polemical- we really have no scholarly basis to definitively say whether Jesus thought He was God or not, but we can study how His very earliest followers thought of Him.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I would encourage you to read James D. G. Dunn’s book, Did The First Christians Worship Jesus? for a scholar who nuances things differently than Hurtado.

      What many agree on is that Jesus began to be incorporated into the religious practices of the earliest Christians basically right away. I think you’ll find that many scholars are not persuaded that this indicates that those Christians thought that Jesus was himself “God” in the sense of being ontologically of the same essence as the one God. Such discussions may perhaps result from the earliest Christians’ devotional practices, but they certainly had not occurred yet, since we see them taking place in subsequent centuries.

      • Daniel Merriman

        I have read Dunn. I thought his book was marred by (surprisingly overt) theological concerns that have nothing to do with the exact question posed by his title. Questions about substance and ontology didn’t seem to bother the earliest Jesus followers at all. Those concerns were for a later day. I happen to like Dunn, but I thought this work lacked focus. One way or another, most of Hurtado’s critics seem to be unable to avoid bringing theological concerns and debates that developed later back into the 1st century. It would appear that Ehrman is guilty of this in some places, but in others not, so I am not saying Hurtado is immune from criticism. (I have worked my way up to 5th on the waiting list at my public library for Ehrman’s book).

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t Ehrman’s point on how Paul thought Jesus was originally an angel still make it much more likely he was mythical?

    I can’t think of any historical people (from the time) who were retroactively thought to be celestial, let alone most.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      This apologetics-style selective appeal to scholarship is going to be unpersuasive for obvious reasons. From your perspective, if Ehrman makes a case for a view that is not shared by his peers and has yet to persuade one of them, never mind many, it is still support for mythicism; but if Ehrman makes a case for the consensus of scholars and historians, that can be dismissed?

      • Anonymous Coward

        Unless there’s some context I’m missing between you and the poster you’re responding to (hard to see how this could be as they are anonymous) this seems to be a great example of you not understanding the logic of what you are reading. You are taking your interlocutor to task for using what Ehrman says as evidence for mythicism, when your interlocutor in fact did no such thing. They pointed out that if Ehrman is right, then this would make mythicism more probable. They did _not_ however say that Ehrman is right. They are not say “Because Ehrman said what he said, mythicism is now more probable.” Rather, they said “If Ehrman is right, mythicism will turn out to be more probable.” Completely different claims, which should be responded to in completely different ways. But you regularly fail to make this kind of distinction in your own informal discussions on the issue.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          You will see that, although the commenter in question uses the “name” Anonymous, they have an actual account and a distinctive image next to their comments.

          Shall I point out that proponents of mythicism have a tendency to miss important details in precisely this way? :-)

          But at any rate, the answer to the question from anonymous would presumably be “no” since (1) we have examples of Jewish literature identifying people they believed to be historical with an angel, and (2) claiming that Jesus had been an angel does not imply that he did not think Jesus had appeared in history, whether as a human or as a phantasm. In other words, Ehrman’s argument, if found persuasive, would need to be coupled with the kind of explanation of the rest of the data that mythicism has thus far consistently failed to even try to offer.

          • Anonymous Coward

            No you should not, as I was careful to acknowledge the possibility that I was missing context in the very post you’re responding to. It is important to be mindful of the things one might not know, and I practiced it in my post, was explicit about it, and in your joking line at the end of your post (which I understand was not meant in an unfriendly way but nevertheless) you sidestepped that entirely and tried to poke a hole where none existed.

            Putting it more briefly: I invited correction, you offered it, and I am happy to accept it, but your attempt to put a little twist into the stabbing motion fell flat, since the correction was _by invitiation_ in the first place.

          • Anonymous

            But the problem is how many of those who were claimed to originally be angels were historical vs. how many mythical celestial beings were there? If you can show there were more historical angel-identified people than mythical, I’d greatly help your case.

            And (2) is somewhat irrelevant because it’s a question of probability, (is it more likely that a being claimed to originally be celestial was historical) no one is saying it’s impossible.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I know of no instances of a purely celestial human being having been thought to have previously been an angel. There is one clear instance in the Prayer of Joseph in which a human being who was presumed to be historical, Jacob the ancestor of the Israelites, was thought to have pre-existed as an angel. There are no instances that I know of of angels having ordinary human names like Joshua/Jesus. And unless the question of how the alleged pre-existing angel is thought to relate to the human person Jesus about whom Paul speaks, it is not clear that Ehrman’s view, even if found persuasive, would in any way help mythicism.

              • Anonymous

                The patriarchal narratives are not historical (at least we don’t know if the people were) so it would put the number at zero (and even if it was, it would be one historical vs. perhaps dozens of mythical angels).

                Why this helps is two reasons: first it shows how celestial ideas could have formed Jesus as a myth (Joshua the high priest, ben Joseph etc.) like they did for other religions and second, it shows the chances of such a historical person (pre-born celestial being who is nonetheless historical) is virtually non-existent.

                And I was under the impression that Ehrman’s was a pretty widely held view, just not the implication that it makes Jesus mythical.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  Nice try with the bait and switch. But obviously the application to Jesus of an idea that was applied in his time to a figure believed to be historical (and who may well have been) does not provide evidence of his being a purely celestial figure.

                  Your continuing to pretend that Zerubbabel and Joshua are unlikely to have been historical figures is pure dishonesty on your part, especially when you have not even tried to offer a case for that view.

                  You are badly misinformed about Ehrman’s view being widely held, and I will say it once again: if you do not know a field well enough to know something basic like that, then you don’t have the data you need to offer properly informed views on the subject. Why not start by informing yourself at least a little first?!

                  • Anonymous

                    Are you seriously arguing that:
                    - The Patriarch Jacob (or any of the patriarchs for that matter)
                    - Joshua the High Priest and
                    - Messiah ben Joseph
                    are all historical? It’s definitely not accepted among scholars that any of them are historical.

                    Well it’s held among all credentialed mythicists and I’m sure Ehrman isn’t the only historicist to have it so it’s not like it’s a fringe view.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      No, I am arguing what I actually wrote.

                      By “credentialed mythicists” you mean Richard Carrier and Robert Price? You make it sound like that means something, when one has chosen to eschew an academic career and one teaches at an unaccredited seminary. Thomas Brodie, as far as I can tell, does not hold the view in question. And your suggestion that Ehrman’s view is widely held suggests that you may not have read his book, but certainly have not read much if anything else on this topic.

                      This blog is a place for serious discussion at a high level. If you cannot be bothered to inform yourself about the basics of a subject, and cannot refrain from misrepresenting what I and others have written, then you will leave me but no choice other than to conclude that you are here to troll rather than to discuss seriously, and to respond accordingly.

                    • Anonymous

                      What’s the misrepresentation? You wrote:

                      -”There is one clear instance in the Prayer of Joseph in which a human being who was presumed to be historical, Jacob the ancestor of the Israelites, was thought to have pre-existed as an angel.”

                      -”Your continuing to pretend that Zerubbabel and Joshua are unlikely to have been historical figures is pure dishonesty on your part”

                      So that would imply you think those three people are historical, and instead of just saying “yes they’re thought to be historical” you instead had a massive knee-jerk reaction.

                      Well unless you want to disqualify all their peer-reviewed academic work then apparently they’re not qualified by your standard.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      If you cannot engage in honest discussion, then this is not the blog for you. I have asked you more than once to provide your reasoning for insisting that Zerubbabel the governor of Judaea and Joshua the high priest contemporary with him were not merely legendary, nor even mythical, but purely celestial figures. You have not done so. And yet when I make a point about them, and also about other figures who I said were “presumed” to be historical in Jesus’ time, and thus the view of them as having had an angelic pre-existence does not provide an example of what mythicists claim, you consistently tried to misrepresent what I wrote.

                      If you wish to be allowed to comment here again, you will need to persuade me that these trollish behaviors are something you are happy to stop, because this is not the place for them.

      • Guest

        This isn’t apologetics and I thought that view was supported by others (at least Ehrman said he came to it through other scholars).

        It’s at least a central tenant of mythicism so it’s not like he’s alone in that view.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I have yet to encounter mythicists whose views overlap with those of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the way you claim.

          If you think that you are not offering apologetics, then you need to learn how scholarship works, and how it is different from picking and choosing individuals with idiosyncratic views to piece together your own view which no actual scholar holds.

    • Gary

      My impression is that you have not read Ehrman’s book. You said “I can’t think of any historical people (from the time) who were retroactively thought to be celestial, let alone most.”… Ehrman made a point that people in ancient times did not think binary, either divine, or human, nothing in-between. He said they believed in varying degrees of divinity, such as Augustus Caesar (historical, but considered celestial, but not top dog). It adds nothing to the mythical/non-mythical argument for Jesus.

      • Anonymous

        I didn’t say there can be no in-between, the question is which figures were pre-birth, completely celestial like Paul’s Jesus (Augustus would not be an example of this).

        And it does add a lot, there are dozens of mythical angels, some mythical angels that became people, but seemingly no historical people who were originally angels unless we count Jesus.

        • Gary

          My point is that Ehrman used the angel reference to show people in those days, Pagans, Christians, and Jews, believed in a continuum between divine and human, not just God, and not God. And the example of Paul included the fact that Paul was rather non-committal on exactly what he believed. Sometimes, depending upon the audience he was talking to, he changed his theology. He also used so-called pre-Pauline creed from Romans 1:3-4 to say Jesus was flesh, and was appointed at his resurrection, not a pre-existing angel. “Who was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh, who was APPOINTED Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his RESURRECTION from the dead”. In no way was there any mythical/historical arguments used in this regard.

          • Anonymous

            Ehrman explicitly said Jesus was thought “to be a divine being before he became a human” and that passage does not contradict that (Jesus was first angel, then human, and finally appointed son of god).

            What it does do is support a major mythicist claim, that Jesus was originally thought celestial (like virtually every other mythical person) and thus is unlikely historical.

            Unless we can show there were more historical pre-human angels than mythical that’s where the evidence goes.

            • Gary

              YOU said “Ehrman explicitly said Jesus was thought “to be a divine being before he became a human” …
              No he did NOT. You obviously did not read his book. You are playing squirrel. He said there were a variety of thoughts on Jesus. Man, at least be honest.

              • Anonymous

                Did you not see that I was quoting Ehrman? Here’s the quote with emphasis:

                Paul understood Jesus to be a divine being before he became a human, and more specifically, Paul thought that Christ was originally an angel—probably the Chief Angel of God—who became a human and then, at his resurrection, was rewarded by God for his faithfulness by being exalted to an even higher rank as one who was actually equal with God.

                Unless someone is insanely dogmatic, that is what Ehrman is saying.


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