Christianity 201

August 11, 2017

Who Was Jesus?

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.” – Matthew 22:42 MSG

In the part of Toronto where I spent the most time in my teen and twenties, there was conservative, King James Only church with a back-lit sign on their building which read,

What think ye of Christ?

The question is the first part of Matthew 22:42 — which the NIV translates as “What do you think about the Messiah? — which I’ve written about before here:

This is probably the question that should be on everyone’s lips at Christmas, at Easter, and other times as well; though you might choose a more modern rendering. The story is not content to have its hearers close the book on the final page. Rather, the book gets stuck open, simmering, percolating, demanding something of each individual with whom it comes in contact. It’s like a computer program you can’t shut down until you respond to a question in a dialog box. It stares at you, and goes, “Well? …Well? …What about it?”

Whenever you hear phrases like “great moral teacher” in reference to Jesus, you need to be aware that during his time on earth Jesus was a great teacher, the answer is selling Jesus short in so many ways.

So what answer are we looking for? The second part of I Corinthians 12:3 reads

…no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

One online writer calls this The Litmus Test of True Believers. I would agree, but want to take this one step further. While certainly Jesus is Lord to me, I want to suggest the question is best answered with a general reply that goes further than my subjective view. After all, I’m human. I could pledge support to anything or anyone but that wouldn’t mean a whole lot to anyone other than other people who have taken up the same cause.

In Philippians 2 — the section sometimes called The Philippian Hymn — Paul writes (or quotes; depending on how you understand this passage):

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,

–I stop there in the middle of verse 6 because not all who show up in a church on Sunday would say that ‘Jesus = God‘ even though Jesus said it himself as quoted in John 14:

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?

Another time he reveals himself as “the Christ” the anointed one.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

Of course, if time permits, and you can remember a longer answer, you might answer this way as Paul does in Colossians 1:

16 For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence.…

He is then,

  1. God
  2. My Lord
  3. His disciples’ glimpse of the Father
  4. The world’s awaited Messiah
  5. The universe’s creator and keeper

and so much more. So…

What think ye of Christ?

 


Because you never know who’s reading. You might ask why a blog called Christianity 201 would run a rather elementary article today and the answer is because you never know who’s reading. For the rest of us, success in the Christian life depends on sticking to the fundamentals. The ‘What think ye of Christ?’ question is one we need to ask ourselves from time to time.

Who is Jesus to me?

August 6, 2014

Excerpts from Mere Christianity

Occasionally we take a break and do a day of quotations from a top Christian author. Today, all the quotations are not only by the same author — C. .S. Lewis — but from the same book, Mere Christianity. These are all from the GoodReads website and at the end is a link so you can read more.  The scripture verses are not part of the quotations or the website, but have been added by me afterwards!


 

C. S. Lewis“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
 II Cor. 3:18


 “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Matthew 16:16

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”

“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:7


“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Luke 9:57


“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. …I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Isaiah 64:6


“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”

Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.
Romans 5:5 (AMP)

Here’s the link to the quotations.  There are eight pages.  Choose a couple that I have not selected here, read them slowly to get an idea of what they’re about, and then ask yourself, what scripture verse might I attach to Lewis’ thoughts on this subject?

August 4, 2012

Does the New Testament Refer to Jesus as God?

Wow! I feel like I walked in on some larger discussion, and yet I felt compelled to share this here with C201 readers.  The blogger is Bobby Valentine and the blog is called Stoned-Campbell Disciple. (I searched the phrase and I have no idea; but the blog post is viable so we’re including it today.) I’ll run an update when I’ve got that part figured out.  Here’s the link if you want to go direct; I’m also planning to include this writer’s work at Thinking Out Loud in the future. Some of this may be over your head, but I hope you feel drawn into the subject as I was.

This post has a very limited goal.  I do not intend to settle all questions that have been discussed by the Church down through the years.  I do not intend to discuss the great Creeds of the Church that confess that Jesus is “true God of true God.”  I intend to examine only texts that call or seem to call (directly) Jesus “God.”  This, however, is not the total picture of the NT when it comes to the “deity” of Jesus — that would demand a much more comprehensive article.  But I thought it worth the effort to put this post together.

A COUPLE TEXTS THAT IMPLY JESUS WAS GOD

1) Acts 20.28: “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God which He obtained with his own blood.”

The crucial words are ten ekklesian tou theou hen periepoiesato dia tou haimatos tou idiou.  There are two problems with this text being “conclusive” in calling Jesus “God.”  One concerns a textual varient and the other concerns a grammatical matter.  1) “Church of God” is the best attested reading — and is likely the original reading.  However, the variant reads “the church of the Lord” which is attested to by A, D, and late/minor versions.  According to the rules of textual criticism we go with the more difficult reading.  “Church of God” is not only more difficult, it also better attested and is regarded as original by most scholars.  2) It is possible that theos refers to the Father and idios refers to the Son.  This is not likely — but it must be acknowledged as a “possibility.”  Alexander Campbell in his Living Oracles opted for “church of the Lord” on the basis of the textual evidence in his day – he was driven by textual evidence and not dogmatic concerns.

But in my opinion Acts 20.28 likely refers to Jesus as “God” but it is not beyond challenge.  Not a good challenge — but a possible one.

2) John 1.18: “No one has ever seen God; it is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed Him.” (NIV)

That John 1.18 truly calls Jesus “God” has gained in scholarly support by the discovery of Bodmer papyri which dates to around 200 A.D.  There are two major possibilities because of the textual witness.  1) [ho] monogenes theos, “God the Only Son” or as some mistranslate it as “only-begotten” God” (as in the KJV).  This is the strongest reading.  It is supported by the best Greek manuscripts (including Bodmer), it is attested in the Syriac, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  Because of the dates of ! most
of these witnesses it cannot be claimed the text was altered in the face of the Arian heresy.  2) mongenes huios, “the Son, the only one.”  This reading is supported by the Old Latin and Curetonian Syriac and later Greek mss.  A poorly attested to reading and not likely original.

In my opinion it is difficult to deny that John 1.18 calls Jesus “God.”

3) Titus 2.13 “awaiting our blessed hope and the appearance of the glory of (the) great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”  The crucial phrase is “epiphaneian tes doxes megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Christou.”   The “problem” with this text is not textual, rather there is a question of syntax.  The most obvious meaning of the Greek is offered in my rendering above. It implies that the passage is speaking of only one epiphany, that is of Jesus Christ.  This agrees with other references to the epiphany of Jesus Christ in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 6.14-15; 2 Tim. 4.1).  That “Savior” is applied to Christ rather than the Father is suggested by the next verse of Titus (2.14) which speaks of the redemption brought forth by Jesus.  The other interpretation of this text, one that seems forced (but it is a possibility) is that Paul refers to God (the Father) and then the Savior (Jesus Christ).

Scholars like Raymond Brown and Oscar Cullman take the interpretation I have offered.  I am convinced that this text calls Jesus “God.”

There are other texts that imply Jesus is God (i.e. 2 Pet. 1.1) but I want to move on to those . . .

TEXTS THAT CLEARLY CALL JESUS “GOD”

There are many texts that imply Jesus is divine but I have limited myself to the usage of the word “theos“.

1) Hebrews 1.8-9: The author says that God has spoken of Jesus his Son in the words of Ps. 45.6-7 “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever  . . .”  The psalm is cited according to the LXX and not the Hebrew text (an important point in this text, btw).  The question to determine is whether “ho theos” is a nominative or a vocative.  A few scholars have suggested that this is a nominative (like Westcott) and suggest this interpretation of the text, “God is your throne forevever and ever.”  This, in the words of Raymond Brown, is “most unlikely.”  In fact that interpretation makes no sense.  The vast majority of scholars see this as a vocative, “O God.”  Cullmann says, “Hebrews unequivocally applies the title ‘God’ to Jesus” (Christology of the NT, p. 310).  There can be little doubt that Cullmann is correct.

2) John 1.1: “In the beginning was the Word;
and the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.”

The crucial words of the second and third lines are kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos.  The only debate regarding this text is that “theos” is used without the article. However, the lack of the article is fairly simple in light of grammar rules for predicate nouns.  There can be little — indeed no doubt — that John 1.1 calls Jesus “God.”

3) John 20.28: “My Lord and my God.” This text is clear and unambiguous.  This is the clearest example of the use of “theos” for Jesus.  Here Jesus is addressed as “God” (ho theos mou), with the articular nominative serving as a vocative.  Some have suggested, perhaps correctly, this confession arose in response to Domitian’s claim to the title dominus et deus noster.

In the final analysis it is clear that the NT does in fact call Jesus “God.”  As I stated at the beginning this is only the tip of the iceberg of how the NT presents the divinity of Jesus.  But we must also embrace the other side of the NT teaching — Jesus was also human. He was God and Man together.  I happen to think Nicea comes pretty close to capturing the complete vision of the NT teaching.

What is most amazing is that all of these texts were written by Jewish monotheists. Further these texts do not all stem from Pauline texts (the assumption that Paul somehow perverted the belief of early disciples but that only begs the question of how Paul came to believe that Jesus was somehow included in the definition of “God” too!!). Some how we modern disciples need to embrace the total message of the New Testament regarding this one we call the Christ.  He was, and IS, both mysteriously and completely (no fudging) Human and Divine.

October 24, 2011

Ron Rhodes: Jesus is the Messiah (Part Two)

Today we bring the conclusion to the article by Ron Rhodes introduced yesterday:

MESSIANIC PROPHECIES FULFILLED IN CHRIST

From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Malachi, the Old Testament abounds with anticipations of the coming Messiah. Numerous predictions– fulfilled to the “crossing of the t” and the “dotting of the i” in the New Testament– relate to His birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and glory.Now, some liberal scholars have attempted to argue that these prophecies were made after Jesus lived, not before. They have suggested that the books of the Old Testament were written close to the time of Christ and that the messianic prophecies were merely Christian inventions. But to make this type of claim is to completely ignore the historical evidence. Indeed, Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks point out:

Even the most liberal critics admit that the prophetic books were completed some 400 years before Christ, and the Book of Daniel by about 167 B.C. Though there is good evidence to date most of these books much earlier (some of the Psalms and earlier prophets were in the eighth and ninth centuries B.C.), what difference would it make? It is just as hard to predict an event 200 years in the future as it is to predict one that is 800 years in the future. Both feats would require nothing less than divine knowledge.

God’s ability to foretell future events is one thing that separates Him from all the false gods. Addressing the polytheism of Isaiah’s time, God said:

* “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come– yes, let him foretell what will come” (Isa. 44:7).

* “Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (Isa. 44:8).

* “Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me” (Isa. 45:21).

* “I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass….Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them'” (Isa. 48:3, 5).

Of course, anyone can make predictions– that is easy. But having them fulfilled is another story altogether. “The more statements you make about the future and the greater the detail, the better the chances are that you will be proven wrong.” But God was never wrong; all the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled specifically and precisely in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus often indicated to listeners that He was the specific fulfillment of messianic prophecy. For example, He made the following comments on different occasions:

* “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).

* “But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matt. 26:56).

* “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).

* “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).

* “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:46-47).

* “Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'” (Luke 4:20-21).

Any reasonable person who examines these Old Testament prophecies in an objective manner must conclude that Jesus was the promised Messiah. “If these messianic prophecies were written hundreds of years before they occurred, and if they could never have been foreseen and depended upon factors outside human control for their fulfillment, and if all of these prophecies perfectly fit the person and life of Jesus Christ, then Jesus had to be the Messiah.”

Indeed, Christ on three different occasions directly claimed in so many words to be the “Christ.” (Note that the word Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah.) For example, in John 4:25-26 Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman who said to Him: “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming.” To which Jesus replied, “I who speak to you am he.” Later, Jesus referred to Himself in the third person, in His high priestly prayer to the Father, as “Jesus Christ, whom You sent” (John 17:3). In Mark 14:61-62 we find the high priest asking Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” To which Jesus declared unequivocally, “I am.”

Others also recognized that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. In response to Jesus’ inquiry concerning His disciples’ understanding of Him, Peter confessed: “You are the Christ” (Matt. 16:16). When Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha answered, “Yes, Lord….I believe that you are the Christ” (John 11:25-27).

Some may ask why Jesus didn’t explicitly claim more often to be the prophesied Messiah. Bible scholar Robert L. Reymond offers us some keen insights in answering this question:

Jews of the first century regarded the Messiah primarily as Israel’s national deliverer from the yoke of Gentile oppression….Had Jesus employed uncritically the current popular term as a description of Himself and His mission before divesting it of its one-sided associations and infusing it with its richer, full-orbed Old Testament meaning, which included the work of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, His mission would have been gravely misunderstood and His efforts to instruct the people even more difficult. Consequently, the evidence suggests that He acknowledged He was the ‘Christ’ only where there was little or no danger of His claim being politicized– as in the case of the Samaritan woman, in private conversation with His disciples (at the same time, demanding that they tell no one that He was the Messiah), in semi-private prayer, or before the Sanhedrin when silence no longer mattered or served His purpose.

Even if Jesus had never verbally claimed to be the prophesied Messiah, the very fact that He was the precise fulfillment of virtually hundreds of messianic prophecies cannot be dismissed, as some liberal critics have attempted. The odds against one person fulfilling all these prophecies is astronomical; indeed, it is impossible to calculate. But fulfill these prophecies, Jesus did– and then He added proof upon proof regarding His identity by the many astounding miracles He performed. Truly, Jesus is the Messiah.