Question: How Can We Categorize Claims About Jesus’ Identity And Ministry That Do Not Fit The Historical Facts?
Answer: The New Testament makes it clear who Jesus Christ is as well as what He did while He was here upon the earth. For two thousand years, Christians have been in agreement over Jesus’ Person and work.
However, during this time, there have also been alternative views to Jesus’ identity and His ministry. Explanations have been given to explain Jesus as a man of His times rather than the eternal God who became human. Also, various alternative explanations have been given of His miraculous deeds that are contrary to the explanations given in Scripture. These alternative explanations continue to this day.
We Must Address Popular And Scholarly
Views Of Jesus That Are Contrary To Scripture
It is important to address various views that unbelievers hold regarding Jesus Christ. In doing so, we should make the distinction between popular views of Jesus, which the general public hears about, and the views of academics, that usually do not make it into the popular press. Many theories which have generated widespread publicity and belief by some in the general public are rejected by most, if not all, Bible scholars. Even unbelieving scholars do not take them seriously! These theories need to be addressed even though they are not accepted by those who are experts in biblical studies.
On the other hand, there are unbiblical theories about Jesus which are held by scholars who teach in colleges and universities around the world. Unfortunately, many Christians have never heard about these theories from their church, or from popular writings. When young people arrive at the university they are confronted with ideas and claims of which they are totally unfamiliar with.
Categorizing The Different View About Jesus
It is important that these claims about God the Son, Jesus Christ, be understood and answered. Probably, the easiest way to do this is to place them into a number of simple categories. This will not only help us understand how those in the past, as well as in the present, attempt to explain Jesus, it will also give us a basis for future theories that try to make Jesus someone other than whom the Bible says that He is.
We can simply summarize them in the following way.
1. There Are Biblical Objections To Jesus’ Deity
There are those people who argue that the Bible itself does not teach that Jesus Christ is God. They believe the passages that are used to show Christ is God do no such thing. In other words, they think that Christians have misused or misunderstood the Bible with respect to Jesus’ identity.
Furthermore, they also assert there are a number of passages that clearly teach that Jesus is someone less than the eternal God. In other words, they use the Scripture itself to deny that Jesus is God.
2. There Are Non-Biblical Objections To Jesus Deity And Miracles
In this category, would be those who do not take seriously what the Scripture says about Jesus. They do not really care one way or the other as to whether the Bible says Jesus is God. They believe that Jesus, if He actually existed, was a mere human being.
The idea that He is God came about as His followers exaggerated His claims as well as His deeds. They provide a number of explanations as to how and why this happened.
3. Jesus’ Miracles Were Similar To Others Living At His Time
There has been the attempt to attribute the miracles of Jesus to the unscientific age in which He was living. They find parallels between Jesus and other traveling healers and exorcists of the ancient world.
The conclusion is that Jesus is one of many ancient miracle workers. The only real difference between Him and the others is that we know about Jesus because writings about Him have survived. Otherwise, there is no difference.
4. The True Story Of Jesus Was Suppressed
The idea that the true story about Jesus Christ was suppressed has always been a popular idea among those who reject the New Testament testimony about Him.
While it has come in a number of different forms, and theories, the basic idea is that the real story of who Jesus was, and what He did, was suppressed or covered up. What we have in the New Testament neither correctly explains Jesus’ identity or what He really did while He was here upon the earth.
Thus, we find Jesus’ identity and ministry denied by both laymen and scholars alike.
Summary To Question 1 How Can We Categorize Claims About Jesus’ Identity And Ministry That Do Not Fit The Historical Facts?
There has always been, and there always will be, claims about who Jesus is, and what He did, that do not fit the historical facts. These theories come from scholars and lay people alike.
It is helpful if we can put these claims, or accusations, into general categories. This will not only help us evaluate the present and past claims but also any future ones that arise.
First, there are those who accept Jesus Christ as someone special who was sent from God but who was not God Himself. They believe the Bible is God’s Word but do not think the Bible teaches the deity of Christ. They point to a number of passages that seem to teach that Jesus is less than God. Consequently, they deny Jesus was anything more than a human being by using the Bible as their source.
Others outright reject the Bible and its teachings about Jesus. There are a number of reasons as to why this is so.
Some think the story of Jesus is only legendary. They reject the idea that a “Jesus” ever existed. Consequently, they feel that it is a waste of time to read the New Testament.
Others believe that Jesus did exist but that His followers embellished His claims and His deeds. Therefore, what we have is not a realistic picture of who He was, what He said, or what He did. Usually they claim to be able to tell us who the real Jesus was.
There is also the view that Jesus was really not that different from other “miracle workers” living at His time in history. He is compared to other “healers” and “miracle-workers” of that era. The only difference between Him and these other people is that somebody wrote about Jesus.
Finally, there are those who believe that the real story of Jesus was covered up. While this idea comes in various forms what they all have in common is that what we have been told about Jesus is not the truth. The true story has been suppressed.
This basically summarizes how the life and ministry of Jesus is viewed by those scholars and lay people who do not believe the claims of the New Testament or the historic beliefs of the church.
This question comes from my forthcoming book “Answering Accusations About Jesus”