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The Deity of Jesus: A Defense
The release of The Da Vinci Code book and movie—in 2003 and 2006 respectively—unleashed a latent cultural era of skepticism in America. The film popularized ideas such as “Jesus was not considered God until the year 325 in the council of Nicaea.” While this idea is easy to dispel and isn’t believed by most critical scholars and serious historians, the idea that Jesus “the man” was, at a certain point, “deified” still prevails in some influential academic circles. Antonio Pinero, a Spanish critical scholar—specialist in early Christianity and Greek philology from Madrid’s Complutense University—affirms that Jesus was a normal man “whose figure was re-interpreted after his death to the point of divinization.”1
In this series of 6 blog posts, I show that, using only historical data that critical/skeptical scholars grant, it is possible to build a cumulative case demonstrating that Jesus not only was considered God by his followers and the early church, but that he claimed to be divine and acted consistently with such claim.
A Word about Historical Sources
I was recently speaking with a skeptic about Jesus. When I mentioned the Bible he objected, “oh no! You can’t do that! You can’t use the Bible as your source. It is a biased propaganda book.” For the purposes of this paper, I will grant that objection (at least in part)—after all, there are few ancient Greco-roman historical accounts that don’t include the super-natural or some kind of propaganda, but it doesn’t follow they don’t contain historical facts. But I will still cite parts of the New Testament (NT). What I will not do, however, is assume that the NT is the infallible Word of God, that it is true a priori, or that it is authoritative. I will treat it as an ancient document. After all, even critical scholars agree with Dr. Bart Ehrman that, “if historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to employ the NT Gospels as their principal sources…this is not for religious or theological reasons—for instance, that these and these alone are trustworthy. It is for historical reasons, pure and simple.”2
With that said, I will engage with only three types of well-attested sources. First, critical scholars grant several undisputed letters of the apostle Paul; that is, epistles known to have been written by Paul and authoritative (not as inspired or divine but as generally reliable ancient historical sources). These include: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Romans. Second, I will also use early sermon summaries in Acts. These contain “unevolved, short, concise, succinct theological statements of the gospel message—at a time when Paul is not even around yet.”3 These sermons represent the “core” of the pre-Pauline Christian beliefs.
Third, I will employ well-attested passages from the gospels. Here one must tread carefully because most critical scholars reject the majority of the gospels. But even people such as Pinero, Ehrman, and critical scholars from the Jesus Seminar will grant some historical core from the gospels. Critical scholars have defined criteria of authenticity to determine if a passage in the gospels is authentic. They classify these sources or “strata” in 5 groups: first, “M” is special material in Matthew not included in the other gospels, “L” is special material in Luke not found in other sources, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of John (which in this case I won’t use since Pinero and others consider it too late and too “theological”), and a “traditions document” or “lost gospel” named “Q”4 which contains material in Luke and Matthew but not in Mark. With John5 eliminated, we still may use four independent historical sources granted by critics.
Method and Background
In this series of 6 blog posts, we will mount a cumulative case to demonstrate the deity of Jesus. This method called HANDS was coined by Robert M. Bowman and Ed Komoszeuski6 as an acronym to remember that Jesus shares the Honors of God, the Attributes of God, the Names of God, the Deeds of God, and the Seat of God. The main difference with Bowman and Komoszeuski’s method is that we will go a step beyond and only use sources and passages that critical scholars generally grant as historical. With that established, let’s review the evidence!
- Antonio Pinero, “Carta programática,” Personal Blog, http://www.tendencias21.net/crist/Carta-programatica_a1.html, (accessed November 7th, 2015). ↩
- Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, fourth ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 229. ↩
- These “sermonettes” are very early and circulated before the NT was written. Gary R. Habermas, “Evidence for the Historical Jesus: Is the Jesus of History the Christ of Faith?” www.garyhabermas.com/evidence1, (accessed November 11, 2015), 25. ↩
- “Q” is a designation named after the German word “Quelle” for “Source”. ↩
- My decision to eliminate John as a source is not because I consider it a poor historical document. I think, in fact, that a strong case can be made for the reliability of John as a whole and for parts of John to be absolutely authentic using historiography. More so, I also believe John to have been written prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, but such a defense would take me beyond the limits of this document. ↩
- Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007). Kindle. ↩