IS Jesus Christ Divine? IS the Bible the Word of God? (Part 3 of the “IS” Articles)

Posted: March 23, 2011 by pastorerichann in Apologetics, Bible Studies / Helps, Christian History, IS Articles, Prophecy, Theology
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With the Easter season quickly approaching, I thought it would be timely to post this 3rd part of the “IS” Articles series:

*Previous “IS” Articles can be located here (part 1) and here (part 2)*

We left off in the previous “IS” article with an exploration of the historical reliability of the New Testament. Based on the foundation of many of the previously mentioned arguments, respected historian R. T. France presents this summary point of view regarding the NT Gospels:

“We have seen above sufficient reason to be confident that the gospels not only claim to be presenting fact rather than fiction, but also, where they can be checked , carry conviction as the work of responsible and well-informed writers” (RT France as referenced by JP Moreland Scaling the Secular City) 

To further the summation of the case for the New Testament events being historical, scholar Luke Johnson at Emory University writes the following: “Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate and continued to have followers after his death” (Luke Johnson, referenced by William Lane Craig, Leader U resource Center)

Dr. Craig also presents these insights which can be utilized as a summary of our previous focus on the Gospels as “reliable” history: 1) There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the Gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased (see I Cor. 15:3-4) 2) The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary “urban legends”(see Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:16a). 3) The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of the first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, schools and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus (we will explore this further along the lines of spiritual “help” for remembrance – John 14:26 ) 4) There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus (see 2 Peter 1:16b) 5) The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. Classical scholar Colin Hemer applied his knowledge and expertise to the New Testament studies in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical  knowledge, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details which only a local person would know. Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated: from the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, “Luke gets it right” (William Lane Craig, Leader U Resource Center)

Whereas the specifics of the story of Jesus cannot be “proven” in the purely scientific sense of the word, the normal historiography (or the science of historical investigation) arguments based on manuscript evidence, internal evidence, internal consistency, and time proximity when applied to the New Testament scriptures, overwhelmingly support the position that we have no reason to doubt their basic, historical credibility. Lest we’re skeptical of the importance of “history” when applied to the topic of verifying the activity or revelation of God to humanity, let’s be reminded that in a technical sense, any event which takes place in our time/space existence becomes “history” once the event is over. If Jesus’ cross and resurrection event took place last week, we would face most of the same questions about verification (Are there reliable witnesses? How many? How committed are they? Are the testimonies corroborating? What were their motives?).

The place of historicity of the New Testament scriptures for Christian apologetics is once again seen in the breakdown by Dr. Winfried Corduan. Simplified, it is: 1. The New Testament as history shows that… 2. …it is reasonable to believe in the deity of Christ, who… 3. …taught us to accept the Bible as the Word of God.

Moving on to numbers two and three, we will first turn to external (extra-biblical) evidence which bears witness that the earliest Christian believers worshiped Jesus as “divine.”

Extra-biblical friends of New Testament Christianity:

The Early Church “Fathers

The following is a list of examples of those known as the “Church Fathers,” their profession to believing in the “deity” of Christ, and the approximate dates of these professions:

  • Ignatius: “God Himself was manifested in human form”  (AD 105)
  • Clement: “It is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God” (AD 150)
  • Justin Martyr: “The Father of the universe has a Son. And He.. is even        God” (AD 160)
  • Irenaeus: “He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this” (AD 180)
  • Tertullian: “…Christ our God” (AD 200)
  • Origen: “No one should be offended that the savior is also God…” (AD 225)
  • Novatian: “…He is not only man, but God also…” (AD 235)
  • Cyprian: “Jesus Christ, our Lord and God” (AD 250)
  • Methodius: “…He truly was and is… with God, and being God…” (AD 290)
  • Lactantius: “We believe Him to be God” (AD 304)
  • Arnobius: “Christ performed all those miracles… the… duty of Divinity” (AD 305) *   **

*(from David Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 93-100, as referenced by Dr. Peter Jones, Cracking Da Vinci’s Code , 94)

**Something notable about the above collection of quotes is how it radically contradicts the fallacious idea promoted by author Dan Brown and the “DaVinci Code” conspiracy people that Constantine around AD 325 suddenly came up with the idea of “Jesus as Divine”

Extra-biblical “antagonists” of New Testament Christianity

The Talmud (AD 400-500 collection of writings by Jewish rabbis) states that “Yeshu” was put to death on “the eve of the Passover ” because he “practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy ” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 107b as referenced by Edwin Yamauchi in Jesus Under Fire, eds Wilkins / Moreland 214)

Tacitus (in a passage written in 115) writes “Christians” named after the person “Christus”… “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of… Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of evil, but even in Rome.” 

Pliny theYounger – governor of Bithynia in northwestern Turkey early in the second century – from a letter written about 111 to the emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) in reference to the blossoming of Christianity: “…they met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god ” (from Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96; as referenced by Dr. Edwin Yamauchi from Jesus Under Fire, op cit, 216).

The attestation of the N.T. scriptures and Jesus as divine

There have been those who will attempt to use the NT itself to marginalize Christians and their profession of the deity of Christ as being not only “placed upon him” but even “placed upon the NT” itself. The subjects below labeled “A” through “D” present evidences much to the contrary:

A. Usage of theos: NT and Greek language expert Dr. Murray J Harris (Ph.D., University of Manchester) catalogues the usage of the specific Greek word theos “God” in relation to Jesus in the New Testament. Based on the wording/structure of the Greek text, Harris notes the following verses present the case for theos being used in reference to Jesus: John 1:1; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; John 1:18. Harris also notes that any concern the usage of theos is restrained can easily be attributed to the fact that the first century struggle was not against atheism/agnosticism, but was instead a counter to polytheism (Acts 17:22-23) and even docetism (John 4: 1-3). (Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in reference to Jesus, 271-273)

 B. The “I Am” Sayings (John 8:58-59; John 10:11)

 C.  Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Lord (Matt. 16:13-17; Daniel 7:13-14; Isaiah 9:6-7)  

 D. Further Implications of Christ’s Life and Teachings

– He claimed to be one with the Father (John 10:30)

– He claimed to be sinless (John 8:46)

– He forgave all sins (Mark 2:5-12; Luke 24:45-47)

– He accepted proclamations such as “My Lord and My God” and accepted worship from people (John 20:28) (compare to Matt. 4:10; Rev.19:10)

– He claimed to have pre-existed and yet was clearly different from the “angels” (John 8:58; Matt. 13:41)

– He claimed He could grant eternal life (John 3:16; 5:39-40)

– He claimed authority over the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:21-48; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12)

– He said at the end of time He will judge the world (Matt. 25:31-33)

– He said we will be judged by how we have treated him (Matt. 25:31-46)

– He claimed to be the Messiah, and fulfilled numerous prophecies*(see below)  (Matt. 2:5-6; Luke 4:16-21; Zechariah 9:9 / Luke 19:28-31; John 19:24, 36-37)

– He performed miracles including raising the dead (John11), and ultimately rising from the dead himself* (* These two will be explored further along in this article)

 Keep in mind, all of this is in reference to a monotheistic Jew teaching monotheistic, Jewish Followers (Deut. 6:4)

The uniqueness of His claims

As Peter Kreeft asserts, there are people who have claimed to be God, but they are in insane asylums. Without giving in to overstatement, Christ’s unique claim of divinity compared to his reputation as a good (and sane) teacher is truly foundational to the standout characteristics of His identity. Whereas founders of particular religions which still exist today have the reputation of being “good / moral” individuals, wise teachers, or even prophets – none of them even made the same claims that were made by Jesus. Ravi Zacharias writes:

 “At the heart of every major religion is a leading exponent. As the exposition is studied, something very significant emerges. There comes a bifurcation, or a distinction, between the person and the teaching. Mohammed, to the Koran, Buddha, to the Noble Path. Krishna, to his philosophizing. Zoroaster, to his ethics. Whatever we may make of their claims, one reality is inescapable; They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn, it is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you, it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammed who transforms you, it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was  identical with His Message. ‘In Him,’ say the scriptures, ‘dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ He did not just proclaim the truth, He said ‘I am the truth.’ He did not just show a way, He said ‘I am the Way.’ He did not just open up vistas, He said ‘I am the door,’ ‘I am the Good Shepherd,’ ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ “I am the I AM.’ In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being”   (Ravi Zacharias: Jesus Among Other Gods, 89-90)        

The historicity of His death by crucifixion is seriously contested by relatively very few. The event is even spoken of by ancient secular sources. For the ancient culture in which Jesus lived, claims of Divinity is the only reasonable explanation (put in human terms) for Jesus’ crucifixion. As many have noted, including John Meier and Leander Keck (Yale University), holding that a good moral teacher, or wise sage would be crucified by capital Roman punishment is inexplicable and even ridiculous. As Keck writes, Jesus’ claims of “Son of God” divinity is the NT witness and is congruent with the charge of blasphemy and intense reaction. Insanity is an option, but an insane person wouldn’t have been a threat or had any kind of real following to the degree Jesus did during or after his death. C.S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma” – or “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” argument states “either this man was, and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 56)

Let’s now look at two more indicators of Jesus Christ as Divine:

*The fulfillment of prophecy

The chances of one person fulfilling just a small percentage of the Old Testament prophecies are ridiculously improbable. Biblical Scholar John Phillips describes it in the following way:

 “It has been said that there were some 109 Old Testament detailed predictions literally fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, and that, of the 845 Quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament, 33 refer to Christ. There are some 25 prophecies concerning the betrayal, trial, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus uttered by various prophets over a period of some five hundred years. These were literally fulfilled although the chances again of such fulfillment have been shown to be one chance in 33,554,438. If the law of compound probabilities is applied similarly to all 109 predictions fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, the chances that they could accidentally be fulfilled in the history of one person is one in billions(John Phillips, Exploring the Scriptures, 124, as referenced by Geisler / Hoffman op cit)

Barry Leventhal, a Jew turned Christian remarks about an experience he had when pondering why Isaiah 53 was so similar to Jesus. His local rabbi, responded to his inquiry by saying “Barry, I must admit that as I read Isaiah 53 it does seem to be talking about Jesus, but since we Jews do not believe in Jesus, it can’t be speaking about Jesus” (Barry R. Leventhal, from Why I Am a Christian, Geisler/Hoffman eds. op cit. 213)

The supreme miracle

Along with the claim of Divinity by this obviously sane and “good” teacher, we look now at what is known as the “supreme nature miracle.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is deemed to be not only the most documented “miracle” in ancient history, but it is perhaps also the most documented, verifiable event in all of ancient history. Dr. J.P. Moreland outlines what he describes as the “undisputable facts” of history surrounding Jesus’ death and the message of the resurrection:

Exhibit 1 – The Disciples died (or were severely tortured) for their Beliefs

Exhibit 2 – The Conversion of the Skeptics

Exhibit 3 – Changes to key Social Structures

Exhibit 4 – Communion and Baptism

Exhibit 5 – The Emergence of the Church

Keep in mind this person we are considering had more of an impact on the history of humanity than anyone who has ever lived. Yet, as Kreeft points out, he “never entered politics, never fought a battle, and never wrote a book. He lived in a backwater nation, never went more than one hundred miles from his home, and was executed by crucifixion as a dangerous criminal.” There have been moral teachers, wise sages, and even religious leaders who have taught some similar ideas. Why then, His impact on human kind? Simply put in historical terms: The claim of divinity and the historical, bodily resurrection.

W.L. Craig notes the following facts surrounding the death and resurrection event: Fact #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in the tomb. Fact #2: On the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers. Fact #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. Fact #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to (The willingness for the disciples to take the “hard road” of the bodily resurrection as well as being willing to die for a hoax/stolen body, etc. extinguishes the possibility of them conspiring the event. What would be their motive? Personal suffering and death? If someone else stole the body we’re hard-pressed to explain the appearances)

What impact would poorly attested/evidenced “resurrection” stories have on our world?

Appolonius of Tyana: The one reported “appearance” was a “vision to a sleeping man in the year 273 , nearly two centuries after his death.”

Sabbatai Sevi: After his death in 1676, it was reported many years after his death that his brother found his tomb empty. Some refused to believe he had ever died. Whatever the case, it was never reported again that anyone had seen him.

Rabbi Judah: While the Rabbi died in 220, the first reference to his appearances came in the fifth century. There is only one witness cited, two centuries after he died. Imagine if someone in our time began proclaiming “George Washington rose from the dead – I saw him.”

Kabir: A 15th century religious leader, who, following his death in 1518, is said to have appeared to stop a Hindu/Muslim controversy.  J.C. Archer writes “Little or nothing is extant from contemporaries of Kabir. Some of his teachings may have been written down about fifty years after his death, but these contain nothing about a resurrection” (J.C. Archer, The Sikhs (50-53). As Gary Habermas notes “simply to report a miracle is not sufficient to establish it, especially if that miracle is going to be used to support a religious system” (Habermas; Resurrection claims, 177, as a referenced in ECA)

Compare the above “charlatans” to this summation of the record of Jesus’ resurrection, remembering that the NT scriptures have the strongest manuscript support of any comparable writings in ancient history, and how this event is also verified by its impact on all of history:

                                         Saw            Heard          Touched                 Other Evidence

1. Mary Mag.                          X                 X                   X                 empty tomb

    John 20:10-18

2. Mary/women                     X                 X                   X                empty tomb

     Matt. 28:1-10

3. Peter                                  X                  X                         empty tomb/clothes      

      I Cor. 15:5                                                                                      

4. Two Disciples                     X                 X                                        *ate with him

     Luke 24:13-35

5. Ten disciples                     X                X                **X         saw wounds/ate food

     Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23

6. Eleven disciples                X                X                **X                        saw wounds

     John 20:24-31

7. Seven disciples                 X                X                                                *ate food

       John 21

8.  All disciples                      X                X                                     commissioning

      Matt. 28:16-20

9.  500 brethren                  X                 X  

      I Cor. 15:6

10.  James                              X                 X  

         I Cor. 15:7

11.  All apostles                     X                 X                                  ate food/ascension  

        Acts 1:4-8

12. Paul                                   X                 X

       Acts 9:1-9; I Cor. 15:8

       *Implied                **Offered himself to be touched

Because the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so convincing people have even concocted borderline “silly” alternative explanations. Dr. W.L. Craig, while debating the subject on the resurrection of Jesus Christ with a professor at UC Irvine, was confronted with the hypothesis of Jesus having an “unknown identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth, came back to Jerusalem just at the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesus’ body out of the grave, and presented himself to the disciples” (Craig, Evidence for Jesus leader U).     

Let’s reflect again on this person: He made radically unique claims; His life fulfilled prophecies against monumentally significant odds of probability; His supreme resurrection miracle is the most attested event in all of ancient history in terms of comparable written documentation and the amount of reliable witnesses; His life has had more impact on recorded humanity than anyone else in history.

What is the record of what this “person” thought about our scriptures?

The Old Testament:

– Jesus referred to the Old Testament continuously, and spoke of it as being written “in the Spirit” and that it should be “believed” (Matt. 22:43-44; John 5:46-47).

– Jesus referred to the Old Testament scriptures as the “Word of God” and in doing so differentiated between the “Word of God” and traditions that were handed down (Mark 7:8-9, 13) (*Note that it is common for people to point out Jesus countered the “religious Pharisees” of his day. While this is true, note also that he did so by appealing to the authority of the word of God. Even His “turning the tables” action was an appeal to the “for it is written” authority of the Old Testament – Matt. 21:12-13)

– Jesus referred to the Old Testament scriptures as “divine authority and the final court of appeal” concerning all questions (Resurrection: Matt. 22:29-33) (Marriage: Matt. 19:4-5) (The Identity of the Messiah: John 5:39, 46; Luke 4:16-21; Luke 24:27, 44)

– Jesus referred to Old Testament people/events as being literal people, including Noah (Matt. 24:37-39) and Jonah (Matt. 12:39-41)

– Jesus quoted from the OT scriptures during his own spiritual trials (Matt. 4:1-11)

– Jesus specifically described what the Old Testament scriptures entailed (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:51; Luke 24:27, 44 – Genesis through 2nd Chronicles was the order in which the OT books were placed during Jesus’ time)

The New Testament:

– Jesus spoke of the apostles as having a spiritually inspired memory (John 14:25-26; John 15:26). John 15:26 reveals the context of this as being those with Christ from the beginning. Peter affirmed Paul’s writings as scriptures (2 Peter 3:14-16). Writings without apostolic authority were rejected. Peter affirmed this issue of  inspiration/authority/eyewitnesses which applied to both the Old and New Testament writings (2 Peter 1:16-21), and contrasted it with that which is false (2 Peter 2:1-2).

John spoke of the serious consequences of adding / taking away from the inspired writings of an apostle (Rev. 22:18-19).

I could go on to elaborate on the survival and impact of the Bible in history. Bernard Ramm outlines the subject matter in the following way: a) Its survival through time b) Its survival through persecution c) Its survival through criticism d) Its influence on culture.

Thus, to accept the basic historicity of the New Testament is to 1) Accept Christ as Divine and 2) To accept the whole of the Bible as being inspired by God and authoritative. Of the many ways we can express our “reason” (I Peter 3:15) for accepting the Bible as the inspired Word of God, one of the ways we express it is simply by stating “because we affirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His authority over this matter.” 

Final conclusions

For the sake of balance, I’m going to end with a quote from Bernard Ramm regarding the role of apologetics in Christian life. Interestingly, Bernard Ramm is a Christian theologian my father had the privilege of personally studying under during his time in seminary. Dr. Ramm states:

“If one could be reasoned into faith, then Christianity would have sacrificed its moral and spiritual dimension. But if there were no evidences at all, then our faith could not be differentiated from gullibility. Because Christianity is in part an historical and in part a spiritual decision, Pascal reasoned that God gave enough evidences to satisfy the mind of the man whose heart was surrendered to Christ, but not enough to tempt a man into Christianity by pure reason alone…Christian evidences posses a strong witness value. They are arrows pointing toward the truth; they are credentials for Christian doctrines; they inform the unbeliever that although Christianity is of the heart, it does not ask for stultification of the intellect” (Dr. Bernard Ramm; Protestant Christian Evidences, 251)

Now, if you haven’t yet, be challenged to make the most important decision of your life. Take the step of faith to repent of sin and personally trust Jesus Christ as your Savior and “Lord.” The name “Jesus” (Grk yesous, Heb. yeshua) means “Savior.” Know for certain that He died and rose to “save” people from their sins (Matt. 1:21; Luke 24:45-48) 

Here’s some guidance on making that decision.

Also, here’s another way of putting it.

Sources:

J.P. Moreland; Scaling the Secular City

Michael Wilkins / JP Moreland eds. Jesus Under Fire

Ravi Zacharias: Jesus Among Other Gods

Murray Harris: Jesus as God

Dr. Peter Jones: Cracking Da Vinci’s Code

Norman Geisler ed.: Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics

Norman Geisler /Hoffman eds.: Why I am a Christian

William Lane Craig: The Evidences for Jesus

Bernard Ramm: Protestant Christian Evidences

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