Jesus Christ the Son of God, Research Paper Example
Words: 5129Research Paper
It is arguable that no other man has influenced Western Civilization more than the person of Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus transformed the pagan world of the Roman Empire and, in the process, formed one of the most powerful religious authorities in the history of the world. At the core of the Christian Church that was organized from the teachings of Jesus Christ was the belief that Jesus was the son of God. It is this tenet that distinguishes the Christian Church from all other of the world’s organized religions and which it makes it unique (Romans 1:4).
The goal of this paper will be to examine the question of whether there is any legitimacy to the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God. A large measure of this Christian belief is founded in faith and, regardless of what may be discovered relative to a factual basis of this claim, and through the ages many have challenged this claim factually, the strict followers of Christianity will remain steadfast in their beliefs. The faith issues will not be ignored, but the bulk of this paper will be dedicated toward a factual determination as opposed to a spiritual one.
Addressing an issue such as this is a difficult task. Due to the nature of this topic, this investigation will not be one where facts are discovered, analyzed, compared and, from which a determination is made. Instead, the investigation of this issue will examine how the concept of Jesus as the Son of God was initiated and how it was popularized. Historically, the information providing substance to Jesus as a person is quite sketchy. What is available and relied upon by Christians are the Gospels whose historical reliability is questionable. Against this background, however, an attempt will be made to examine the issue and arrive at some understanding as to what is meant by the claim that Jesus was the Son of God. The resulting finding may be unpopular, but a belief such as this that has been the driving force behind a religion that has been as influential as Christianity deserves full consideration and examination (Schmidt, 2004). Toward this end, the concept will be examined from a non-religious prospective in the hope that doing so will eliminate as much bias as possible.
There are very good arguments presented that disclaim the idea that Jesus was the Son of God. Modern man has come to rely, much more than any prior generation of man, to rely upon reason and experience to make decisions and form judgments (Warburton, 2004) (Keck, 2001). Historically, this was not always the case.
This new dependence on reason and experience has resulted in the divinity of Jesus and his very existence being questioned by a great number of individuals. Some of these individuals deny the fact that Jesus ever existed. For both believers and non-believers in the divinity of Christ, the question of his actual existence is of tremendous and vital importance. The importance of the Christian religion to the history of the world is well-established. Its impact on the development of Western Civilization is notorious but what is the evidence that Jesus ever existed and, further, what is the evidence that He was the Son of God? The question, “Was Jesus the Son of God?” goes to the very root of the conflict between reason and faith and either lends substance to the strength of the Christian religion or brings into question the entire basis on which the religion was founded.
Those who argue that Jesus never existed or that he was not the Son of God want to rely on historical evidence. They argue that in our modern world there must be sufficient evidence to warrant either belief. If the evidence is not available to justify these two positions and it is found that Jesus was merely a fictional creature whose story grew into the formation of one of the world’s major religions, then Jesus should be considered no greater than any mythical god such as Zeus or Apollo.
The written historical proof of Jesus’ existence and his divinity is based essentially on the four chapters of New Testament known as the Gospels which were allegedly drafted by Matthew, Mark. Luke, and John. Very little is known about any of these men other than what is said within the dicta of the Gospels. Theories abound as to who these gentlemen were and there has been extensive research done as to the content of each Gospel, when each Gospel was written, and, how each Gospel treats the divinity of Jesus. Interestingly, on this last issue, which is the basis of the Christian theology, there is no uniform agreement. Only the Gospel of John insists on the proposition that Jesus was the Son of God.
As the Gospels form the basis of the Christian religion, it is vitally important that their authenticity be unquestioned. Unfortunately, proponents of the position that Jesus never existed or is not the Son of God argue strongly that there is no trustworthy evidence that any of the Gospels were in existence until well after the alleged death of Jesus (Barker, 1992). Even the most strident of Christian religious scholars cannot date the Gospels until late in the 1ST Century and there is no written historical mention of any of the Gospels until late in the 2nd Century when Greek historian Theopholis mentions the Gospel of John in 180 A.D (Walvoord,1983).
The fact that the Gospels are not mentioned until nearly 150 years after Jesus’ supposed death raises serious questions as to their value as evidentiary evidence. As any modern historian will argue, history must be based upon genuine documents or living proof. If someone were to attempt such a historical document today with the required documentation or other proof, such work would be dismissed immediately as either fiction or a scam. Not a single statement contained therein would be relied upon as true.
It is also interesting that all four of the Gospels are written in Greek (Vries, 2007). The historical Jesus was a Palestinian Jew and would have spoken Aramaic as would all of his followers. The Gospels were all originally written in Greek and not translated from another language at least the only Gospels that are in existence were written in Greek and none of the original Gospels still exist. Instead, the oldest Gospels that still exist are written in the 5th Century and based on several layers of translation. Who made these translations is not known; why they were made is not known; and the circumstances under which they were translated are not known. Those who question the existence of Jesus argue strongly that these factors raise serious questions. Questions for which disbelievers claim the Christian religion has no answers (Naude, 2002).
In addition to the problem of authenticating the four Gospels that the Christian Church relies upon for establishing the historical legitimacy of Jesus, there is the considerable problem raised by the fact that in addition to these four Gospels there are a large number of other gospels that have been circulating throughout history (Segelberg, 1960). All but the four previously referenced Gospels have been discredited by the Christian Church for one reason or another, but their existence cannot be denied and they raise serious questions, at least for disbelievers and those who value historical integrity.
Moving beyond the issue of the source of the Gospels, the existence of alternative gospels, and possible translation problems there are still problems regarding the historical Jesus. Using the four Gospels as the source of information regarding Jesus’ life, there are some remarkable discrepancies. These are discrepancies that go to the heart of Christian theology.
If Jesus lived and died, he must have been born, but the details regarding his birth differ depending on which Gospel one references. In addressing this discrepancy, no less a authority than the Encyclopedia Brittanica states: “Christians count one hundred and thirty-three contrary opinions of different authorities concerning the year the Messiah appeared on earth.”
The year of Jesus’ birth is not the only historical detail that is in question. The place of his alleged birth, Bethlehem, and the existence of his alleged childhood home, Nazareth, is also in question. The Bethlehem story is based on facts that differ substantially from what would be typical in Roman society at the time of Jesus’ alleged birth and there is substantial evidence that the City of Nazareth did not even exist during Jesus’ lifetime. The Encyclopedia Biblica, a work written by theologians, says: “We cannot perhaps venture to assert positively that there was a city of Nazareth in Jesus’ time.” These two discrepancies considered together raise severe doubt as to the existence and divinity of Jesus.
Christians also have no explanation as to the fact that little or nothing is known of Jesus’ life for the thirty years following his alleged birth. In only one of the Gospels, Luke, is any mention of any events in his life offered. Luke describes Jesus’ experience with the learned men in the Temple on his family’s trip to Jerusalem but, otherwise, no information is offered. If the Gospel writers are indeed familiar with the true details of Jesus’ life why are the first thirty years of his life ignored? Was there nothing significant in the life of a man who was also God that deserved mentioning? Disbelievers point out that such omission confirms that the Gospel renditions of his ministry are fictional stories created to lend authentication to the Christian ideology.
As pointed earlier, only the Gospel of Luke mentions the incident in the Temple of Jerusalem. Why none of the other Gospel writers chose to mention the incident raises questions but the incident itself is also questionable. How can parents of only one child travel nearly an entire day without noticing the absence of such child and what is the likelihood that learned men would tolerate the questioning of a young boy? Both factors raise significant question as to the basis of Luke’s story.
Divorcing oneself from the question as to why the Gospels ignore the first thirty years of Jesus’ life brings into focus the length of his actual public ministry. Again, the Gospels do not agree. Three of the four Gospels detail all the experiences of his ministry as occurring within one year while only one, John’s, explains it as occurring over a period of three years. Additionally, the Gospels disagree strongly as to the location of Jesus’ ministry. Again, it is John who differs from the other Gospel writers. John claims that Jesus spent considerable time in and around Jerusalem while the other Gospels place him almost entirely in Galilee.
The circumstances surrounding the last days of Jesus’ life and his alleged subsequent Resurrection, the historically most significant events in the Christian Church’s liturgy, are also presented inconsistently. None of the four Gospels agrees as the circumstances; none agrees as to who was present; and, none agrees as to how and when things happen. A man rises from the dead and the accounts of how it occurred cannot agree? Detractors argue that this is preposterous.
In essence, those who argue against the existence of Jesus and those who argue against his divinity find the four Gospels as historically worthless. They point that the Gospels are full of contradictions and full of renditions of history that are simply not true. These individuals argue that the Gospels are the creation of Christian religious zealots who were anxious to promote their new Church. Evidence that this is the case can again be found in the Encyclopedia Biblica which when speaking of one of the individuals that Christianity has promoted as the greatest disciples of Jesus states, “It is true that the picture of Paul drawn by later times differs utterly in more or fewer of its details from the original. Legend has made itself master of his person. The simple truth has been mixed up with invention; Paul has become the hero of an admiring band of the more highly developed Christians.”
Aside from the problems with the historical facts, Christians argue that the fact that Jesus performed miracles should stand as evidence that he was divine and the Son of God; however, again it must be asked, How come there is no historical documentation? A man goes about raising men from the dead, feeding thousands from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and changing water into wine and no one finds this unusual enough to write about it? Detractors again find this to be impossible. Other than claims that occur in the Gospels, there is no historical documentation of any kind attesting to these events.
The historical Jesus did not live in a period of isolation. The age in which he was supposed to have lived was an age of scholars and thinkers. The age is well documented in history other than any of the details of Jesus’ life. Some of the most noted of Jewish historians lived during the age and yet there is not one line, not one word, about Jesus. Philo, one of the most renowned Jewish writers in history, was a contemporary of the historical Jesus. He lived in or near Jerusalem throughout most of his life. The same place that Jesus allegedly preached, the place that many of his miracles were said to have occurred, where Jesus was tried and crucified, and, where he arose from the dead and Philo never mentions Jesus or any of Jesus’ accomplishments. (Philo,2005)
Still another noted Jewish historian, Josephus, writing at the end of the 1st Century makes no mention of Jesus. Josephus’ book, The Antiquities of the Jews, remained one of the leading treatises on the history of the Jews in the first few centuries and yet Jesus is not mentioned in any edition until the 4th Century when the following passage is finally added, “Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works; a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (Josephus, 2011: p.725).” Josephus had been dead for over two hundred years when this passage was added and the writing style of the passage is arguably different from anything that Josephus ever wrote. In the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the added Josephus passage is explained as follows: “That Josephus wrote the whole passage as it now stands no sane critic can believe.”
Those who believe that Jesus was not the Son of God claim that the Jesus of the Gospels cannot have been a real person. They will concede that there may have been a person whose name was Jesus, who did wonderful things, and was followed by admiring friends but if he accomplished everything that was attributed to him how could no reference to him be made outside of the Gospels?
Those who argue that Jesus not only existed but also was the Son of God confidently state that there is considerable and reliable evidence to support their position. Three modern discoveries, particularly, have been offered as evidence and provide rebuttals to the arguments offered by detractors. The first of these discoveries was the uncovering of a block of limestone in the coastal town of Caesarea. Caesarea was the capital of Judea during the time that Pontius Pilate was supposed to be the Roman Governor of the region. The limestone block that was uncovered was carved with the inscription: “To the honorable Augustus Tiberius Pontius Pilate prefect of Judea has dedicated [this] (Vardaman, 1962).” The significance of this block of limestone was that it definitively established the rule of Pilate and it lent some credibility to the Gospels’ claims that Pilate was the Roman Governor that sentenced Jesus to the cross. Prior to the uncovering of the limestone block and the specific reference to Pilate, detractors who argued against Jesus’ existence pointed out the lack of archeological documentation. The uncovering tempered their arguments.
Thirty years later archeologists again uncovered a significant item when they discovered an ossuary (bone box) about two miles south of the City of Jerusalem (Walsh, 2011). The box contained the inscription of the Joseph Caiaphas who was indentified in the Gospels as the Jewish high priest who recommended to Pilate that Jesus be executed. After three years of scientific testing, the ossuary was declared by the Tel Aviv University Department of Archeology to be authentic “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The third archeological discovery, however, is the most significant one. For years detractors arguing against the existence of Jesus have pointed out that there was never any evidence that the boyhood home of Jesus, as identified by the Gospels, ever existed. Christian historians battled against this argument but had to admit that the detractors were right until very recently (Salm, 2008). As late as 2006, the detractors were strong in their belief, but in 2009 the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced that they had uncovered archeological shards that were traceable directly to 1st Century Nazareth (Bazar, 2009). The strongest argument offered by detractors was suddenly and affirmatively debunked.
As was pointed out earlier, detractors of Jesus’ existence and of his being the Son of God are highly dependent on the assertion that there is no historical documentation to support either position, but the reality is that such lack of documentation is not unusual when speaking of that period in history. Most of such documents have been destroyed through wars, fires, weather or simple deterioration. According to historian, E.M. Blaiklock, “practically nothing has survived (McDowell, Evidence for the Historial Jesus, 1993: p. 23).”
As to the absence of any reference to Jesus by historians that were contemporaries of Jesus such as Philo or Josephus, such individuals seldom, if ever, wrote about common citizens. Their writings were limited to major political leaders, wars, and cultural conflicts. A poor Jewish itinerant would not ordinarily draw much attention from such historians. So the absence of Jesus’ name in the noted historical accounts of the day is of far less significance than one might expect.
The inclusion of the passage in Josephus’ book, Antiquities of the Jews, that is relied upon detractors as being a forgery is, like many books from that era, subject to interpretation. While detractors argue that Josephus did not include the passage in his first accounting there is an argument to the contrary. If the contrary argument is accepted its inclusion provides compelling evidence of Jesus’ existence and further demonstrates the influence that said Jesus exercised. Christian leaders will argue that many scholars support the position that Josephus included the disputed passage in his original work (Kirby, 2001).
In addition to the disputed writings of Josephus, there are a number of other writings from the first few centuries that mention and document the existence of Jesus. These writings do not address the divinity of Jesus, but the divinity of Jesus can be established in other ways once his actual existence is established. The noted historian, Will Durant, notes in his historical account that he “took the existence of Christ for granted. The denial of that existence never seems to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity (Durant, 1972: p. 555), “ and the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus notes in his Annals, written in the early 2nd century, that Jesus lived during the reign of Tiberius and “suffered under Pontius Pilate (Durant, 1972: p.15:44).”
Perhaps the best evidence as to both the existence of Jesus and his divinity can be found in the numerous letters and writings that exist from those who knew him best – his apostles and disciples. It was common for early Christians to write letters, sermons, commentaries, and creeds about Jesus. These documents began to appear within a few short years after Jesus’ crucifixion and, fortunately, many of these documents have survived. These documents confirm the details about Jesus that are found in the Gospels including accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and his resulting resurrection. Reportedly, over 36,000 of these writings in some form have been discovered (Habermas, 2001: p.212).
Refuting the claims that the Gospels were not contemporaneous with the historical Jesus and therefore unreliable as a historical source has been not been easy for the Christian Church but, like the dispute regarding the Josephus passage, how one views the issue is highly dependent on one’s basic orientation. Objectivity is not always easy and so the arguments of believers are likely as acceptable as are the arguments of detractors and skeptics. As the noted writer, C.S. Lewis, who was once an acknowledged atheist, stated: “Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that…the Gospels are…not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing” (Bruce, 1997: p.119).
The historical documentation issue may never be resolved to the satisfaction of either side of the issue, but what cannot be denied is that Jesus and the Christian Church has impacted greatly on the history of all men but particularly on Western Civilization. From a small group of loyal followers, the Christian Church barely survived and faced near extinction within the first few years, but it gradually grew to be the largest religious organization in the world and one of the most powerful as well. Historian H. G. Wells, when asked who has left the greatest legacy on history, confidently replied, “By this test Jesus stands first” (Wells, 1949: p. 528).
In the last fifty years the archeological proof has been uncovered that supports the existence of Jesus and documentary evidence has been presented by both sides. What differentiates the documentary evidence supplied by the detractors from that supplied by the Christian supporters is the evidence that attests to the events occurring subsequent to Jesus’ death on the cross. These events form the substance of the Christian Church and if the resurrection is indeed provable there can be no doubt as to the divinity of Jesus.
The Gospels quote Jesus as saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again (John 11:25, NIV).” Following this declaration, Jesus’ closest followers spoke of his having resurrected just a short three days following his death on the cross. Thousands of letters, sermons and other written documents still exist referencing this event and unless it can be demonstrated that these letters and other documents were drafted to perpetuate some form of fraud they are the best available proof of the divinity of Jesus. These letters and other documents talk about how they ate with Jesus, touched him, and spent 40 days with him. These assertions are the foundation of the Christian Church. If Jesus actually did rise from the dead it would confirm everything that he said about himself in the Gospels and the destiny of everyone after they die. The theologian R.C. Sproul clarified the importance of the Resurrection to the Christian Church by stating: “The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses. Buddha is dead. Mohammad is dead. Moses is dead. Confucius is dead. But, according to Christianity, Christ is alive” (Sproul, 1982: p. 44).
The importance of the Resurrection as proof of Jesus’ divinity cannot be overstated. Although there has been some debate relative to whether or not Jesus was dead at the time that he was removed from the cross, no serious theory has ever been proposed that refutes this point. However, many theories have been proposed relative to what happened to his body subsequent to its burial.
The first such theory was that Jesus’ disciples stole his body from the tomb (Carrier,2005) but such theory ignores the fact that the Romans had assigned one of their best units to guard the tomb. In order for the disciples to have stolen the body they would have had to physically overcome the guards and then push aside the large stone that was used to close the tomb. This combination of events has been dismissed as implausible.
Lending support for the resurrection of Jesus was the fact that subsequent to this event the entire attitude of the disciples changed. They ceased mourning, ceased hiding, and began to talk openly about having spent time with Jesus and were renewed with new confidence. From a group of frightened individuals who cowered before the Roman officials who came to arrest Jesus the night before the crucifixion, the Apostles were suddenly willing to suffer humiliation, torture, and, in most cases, death on behalf of their loyalty to Jesus. What better testament to the factual reliability of the Resurrection than the fact that the personalities of the Apostles’ were transformed in response to it?
Author Josh McDowell wrote in his book, The Resurrection Factor, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christianity stand or fall together” (McDowell, 1981: p.179). St. Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians went further by saying, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor. 15:14-17).
These two quotations, from diversely different sources, indicate the importance of the Resurrection to the Christian Church. The fact that Jesus resurrected from the dead is the event that differentiates the Christian religion from all other religions. No other religious figure has ever made such a claim and there is no record that any other religious figure ever did so. Jesus’ Resurrection was documented by his followers in the days after it occurred and propelled these followers to spread the message of his death and Resurrection to the rest of the world. Over the course of the next several centuries following Jesus’ death and Resurrection, from this small band of followers the Christian Church developed into the world’s largest religion. A remarkable feat for anyone but for a poor Jewish man from an isolated village it goes far beyond being remarkable.
Regardless of whether one believes in the existence of Jesus or whether he was the Son of God, the inherent greatness of the actual Man or the Myth that became Jesus cannot be denied. His influence is remarkable and, as pointed out at the beginning of this discussion, He just may be the most important figure in the history of Man. If he was not divine, then it is hard to understand how such an apparently simple individual could have risen to the level of power and influence that he ultimately attained. Even those who disclaim that Jesus was God admit that he was a great moral leader and teacher and so his influence has transcended cultures other than Western Civilization.
Jesus’ frequent references to himself as God and speaking of himself as being as one with the Father lends credence to the concept of his being the Son of God. Like many aspects of the Christian religion, there are many things that must be taken on faith alone. Some of the ideas expressed by Jesus were too profound for mere mortal man to understand. This has been the basis of the Christian Church for more than 2,000 years and many great and intelligent thinkers and scholars have accepted this rather unbelievable concept on faith and this fact gives support to its veracity. In this modern era when little or nothing is accepted that cannot be proven through reasoning or experience, the acceptance of a concept such as Jesus being the Son of God is difficult to rationalize but perhaps that was Jesus’ intention all along? Jesus warned that there would be those who refused to believe but also warned that only through belief in Him would eternal salvation be possible.
Proving or disproving the existence of Jesus and his being the Son of God is a wonderful exercise in intellectual thought, but it is a topic that is likely beyond resolution. Like most topics, there are various viewpoints and the topic of religion generates more controversy than most. Universal agreement as to the divinity of Jesus will never be achieved, but there is seemingly sufficient evidence to indicate that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. When one adds the element of Faith, such evidence becomes stronger. In the end, this is where I comfortably and confidently stand.
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