07-12-19 IS JESUS JUST

A MAN? Part One

Published 7th December 2019


By John Aldworth

What is it with this ‘Jesus is just a man’    business? We seem to be hearing it from all sides now. Bad enough that two or three decades ago the notorious ‘Jesus Seminar’ blackballed most of our Lord’s gospel sayings in the Bible as spurious and denied both his miracles and those of his apostles. According to them the historical Jesus was only a Jewish teacher, not God the Son, he did not have a miraculous birth, did not raise people from the dead, did not die for our sins, nor did He rise again.

Today even some of the best-selling supposedly Christian authors are putting out that Jesus was not the God of the Old Testament, had no existence prior to his birth from Mary, and though resurrected and exalted after his death is still but a man and not the ‘one true God’ as such even today.

And, sadly, the argument that Jesus was but a man specially sent by God only at his baptism (not before) and that he had no prior existence to his birth is now becoming the default belief of many. Indeed, the divinity of Christ is now so under attack that it has become a major ‘wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14) tossing believers about left, right and centre and, in my view, undermining the faith of many. And the argument being put forth is highly persuasive. Scriptures are presented that at face value appear to teach that the Father alone is the only true God and that the real Jesus Christ is the historic figure of a peasant prophet who lived in the Roman province of Judea nearly 2,000 years ago.

It is admitted by these, mainly Unitarian, revisionists that as the ‘Son of Man’ he was sent by God from his baptism onward, lived a life that pleased God – the only human being to do so – and died so that his blood could atone for our sins. But in all that he remained a man, the teaching goes. Though He is called the ‘Son of God’ this does not mean He is God Himself, it is said.

A doyen of this ‘Jesus is just a man’ school of thought is historian Bart Ehrman, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. He is author of several very popular books about early Christianity including Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted. His latest book is How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.

Ehrman claims that if Jesus had not been ‘fictitiously’ declared God by his followers Christianity would have remained ‘just a sect within Judaism, a small Jewish sect’.  He asserts that based on Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus in his lifetime didn’t call Himself God, didn’t consider Himself God and that his disciples had ‘no inkling at all’ that He was God. Only in John’s gospel, he argues, are found such statements as ‘Before Abraham was I AM’, ‘I and the Father are one’ and, ‘If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.’ His conclusion, apparently shared by many scholars now, is that the Apostle John’s understanding of Jesus is ‘not historically accurate’. In other words the scripturally based belief that Jesus Christ is ‘the first and last’ (Rev. 1: 11) , meaning that He was God is God and always will be God is a myth.

Supposed ‘historical accuracy’ has become the watchword for most of today’s avant-garde writers and commentators on the Bible and Christianity. They include Anthony Buzzard. Greg Double, Marcus Borg and others. Almost without exception they either deny or cast doubt on the deity of Christ. Indeed, most deny him any pre-existence before his human birth.

And the reason they do so is that they take a scholastic ‘historical’ approach to understanding Jesus and the scriptures. What this means, as Ehrman puts it, is that ‘historians, whether they are believers or non-believers, simply cannot say Jesus was probably raised from the dead’ because that would be to acknowledge that miracles are a true part of history when from a historian’s point of view they are not. Deemed the most popular writer on the Christian religion in the world today Ehrman reluctantly admits miracles may have happened in the past but insists ‘they’re not part of history’.

Notably, Ehrman says he was once a young evangelical Christian ‘wanting to know how God became a man’. However, after concluding that the ‘real historical Jesus’ is not accurately recorded in the New Testament he is now an agnostic and as a historian wants to know ‘how a man became a God’.

Even prominent authors who are believers are influenced by his academic historical approach. For example, professor of comparative religion Marcus Borg deems miracles in the gospels ‘metaphorical examples’ not actual events while Unitarians such as Sir Anthony Buzzard and Greg Double believe that Christ had no existence prior to his birth from Mary. This despite scriptures such as John 6:58-62 where Jesus challenges the ‘many’ disciples who cannot accept Him as the ‘bread come down from heaven’ (vs. 58) saying: ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?’ (vs. 62). And what about John 17:5: ‘And now Father glorify Me with thine own self with that I had with Thee before the world was’?

Greg Deuble seeks to explain away the plain meaning of this verse by saying Jesus didn’t mean He had been in heaven with God in the past but was saying (prophetically) that He would be with Him in future, thus using the Hebrew prophetic penchant for saying something had already occurred (because it is in the plan of God) when actually it had yet to happen). Granted, this idiom is sometimes employed by the Old Testament prophets but actually it is rarely used by Jesus in the New Testament. Actually, by not taking Jesus’ words literally Deuble ignores the first rule of hermeneutics which is to take a non-enigmatic statement as it is read unless the context or mistranslation requires otherwise. Neither stricture applies to these verses as presented in the King James Version.

But in any case why seek to change the meaning of Jesus’ repeated statements that he came from the Father, was with the Father before the world began, came from heaven and would go back there? Answer: So that that only God (the Father) can be seen as God and thus the ‘monotheism’ of the Old Testament (‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord’, Deut. 6:4, Mark 12:29) can be used to deny the commonly-held ‘orthodox’ position that God is a ‘trinity’, a word not found in the Bible.  Now I am not a Trinitarian. God is Spirit (John 4:24) and his Spirit is not a separate person, neither is his Son. However, the question of how God can have a Son when He remains the ‘one true God’ is not resolved by denying clear scriptural statements that the Lord Jesus Christ is divine. There is another answer other than Trinitarianism (which is really tritheism – God in three separate persons) and Unitarianism which maintains that Jesus is and was just a man.

That God is One is undeniable. Jesus clearly says so (Mark 12:29). And Jesus upheld this ‘Oneness’ when he said: ‘I and my Father and are one’. Note that the word ‘my’ is in italics, indicating that it is not in the original Greek. Therefore what Jesus actually said was: ‘I and Father are one’. He also said He was in Father and Father in Him.

You see, there is more than one way by which God can be One. The Unitarian approach is to deny the deity of Jesus Christ despite many verses which hail Him as God. For example, Thomas worshipped Him as ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28) and in Heb. 1:8 it is said of the Son: ‘Thy throne O God is for ever and ever’ and in vs. 10 it is said: ‘And Thou, O Lord in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the work of thy hands’. The other way out of the dilemma is to recognise that Christ Himself is God in all his fullness. That He is the Father and the Spirit and Himself in One. (More on this will be said in the second study in this series).

To me the heart of the issue for a believer is: Who saved you and did He do it supernaturally or just as a man? Allow me to also ask: Do you experience the life of Christ in your heart? Do you rejoice at the difference knowing Him (not intellectually but experientially, really and spiritually) makes in your life? Then ask yourself does this ‘eternal life’ that you are experiencing come from God or man?  I would contend that it is the pre-incarnation Christ Himself speaking as both the Father and the Son when He says in Isaiah 43: 11 and 1:

I even I am the Lord and beside Me there is no Saviour… I am the Lord your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King.

Agreed, there cannot be two gods or two saviours, only one. Nor is God three separate persons in a ‘trinity’, a word not found in scripture. Most certainly God is ‘One’ and as the Lord Himself said there is only ‘one true God’. Who is He? My conviction is that He is the Lord Jesus Christ ‘who was and is and is to come, the Almighty’, as He said Himself in Rev. 1:8. In Him ‘dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Col. 2:9).

Against this view Unitarians such as Deuble and Sir Anthony Buzzard hold that Jesus never was God, was only a man in his earthly ministry and though now in heaven is still only a man and not God despite his having been given ‘all power in heaven and earth’ (Matt. 28:18) and been given a name – the ‘Head’ – which is above every name (see Col. 2:19 and Phil. 2:9-11).

Against their view I would assert that Christ was the original creator of heaven and earth (Eph. 3:9, Col. 1:15-19) and that He is also the creator of the new creation (Col. 2:10). As such He has ‘the pre-eminence’ since in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead (Col. 1:18-19). And if this be so how can it be said He is not God?

Much more needs to be said but this must await a further study.