How often are Christians confronted with some statement similar to the one above, admitting that Jesus was actually a real person but denying that he ever claimed to be God?
The implication behind these types of claim is that “real scholarship” rather than fanatical hype has discovered how misguided us Christians are about what Jesus actually taught.
The atheist attack today has shifted from outright denial of a historical Jesus to attacking the content of his teaching. Most atheistic New Testament scholars have now begrudgingly accepted that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person.
After licking their wounds and regrouping they now argue the idea of Jesus being God was a myth started by the early church hundreds of years after Jesus actually lived.
Implicit Acceptance That the Evidence Says Jesus of Nazareth Did Exist
Firstly it is important to point out the importance of this shift in strategy on the atheist’s part. Just as atheists cling “tooth and claw” to the Theory of Evolution despite all the new evidence to the contrary, so too did they cling to the “Jesus never really existed” mantra.
The atheist-driven scientific community has happily excluded people from positions of authority in science for over 100 years based on them holding the religious belief that God created each animal “according to its kind”. Because of this atheistic monopoly, Evolution goes largely unchallenged.
Unfortunately for the atheist, New Testament Studies and Theology cannot ban admission based on religious belief like the scientific community has managed to do.
With people from different philosophical worldviews interpreting the evidence, evidence against atheism and in favour of Christianity in New Testament Studies cannot be so easily suppressed, ignored or discounted as it can in the largely atheist dominated scientific establishment. For this reason the truth of Jesus as a historical person won the day.
“There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.” -Burridge and Gould (2004)
Never Let Truth Ruin a Good Story
With the academic consensus accepting Jesus as a real-life historical person why is it that we still see documentaries expressing as fact that Jesus never existed?
Sadly these days many in the media are more concerned with upholding their liberal/secular narrative than presenting fact. The mass media, for the most part, will go straight to the most liberal, anti-Christian scholars it can find when trying to present factual and historical “documentaries” about Jesus. This secular media bias is the reason so many uninformed atheists get away with saying that Jesus never existed when true scholarship has been forced to acknowledge his existence.
The New Strategy
As historical research has progressed and more open-minded New Testament scholars have shifted the historical consensus, atheists have had to rethink their objections to Christianity a little. Today most informed atheistic scholars will not try to argue that Jesus never existed, simply because of the sheer weight of evidence that points to his existence. The new atheist strategy has shifted its attack against Christianity to the realm of Jesus’ actual teachings rather than his actual existence.
“…the total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.” -Maier (2005)
The Divinity of Christ – An Early Church Myth
The new focus of atheistic attacks aiming to discredit Christianity is towards whether Jesus actually even claimed to be God. Liberal theologians and outright atheists dressed in theologian’s garb try to claim that the divinity of Jesus was an invention of the early church hundreds of years after Jesus lived.
Sadly for the atheist cause, as more and more Bible-believing Christians make their way into academia and counter-balance the traditional atheistic assumptions of Higher Biblical Criticism this belief is headed the same way as the “Jesus never existed” claim. Again, the secular media and secular educational establishments cling to the out-dated Higher Criticism of the past when modern scholarship has moved on.
Christians retaking Christianity
The addition of Jesus as divine to Christian doctrine hundreds of years after Jesus lived is a comfortable story for uninformed arm-chair atheists desperate to discredit Christianity, but for actual New Testament scholars to cling to this narrative is becoming more and more difficult.
Today the majority of liberal/non-Christian New Testament scholars admit that most of the New Testament was penned before the close of the 1st century. This means that the teachings found about Jesus in the New Testament cannot be additions to Christian teaching that were added hundreds of years after the fact. This fact alone goes a long way to establishing the accuracy of the accounts of Jesus’ teaching found in the New Testament.
Jesus Said He Was The Son of God…Not God!
Whilst this is a common position for atheists to take as they are beaten out of stronghold after stronghold on their way closer and closer to philosophical incredibility, it is our friends the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have really championed this one.
In all fairness, it must be noted that to our 21st century minds claiming to be The Son of God seems different than claiming to be God Himself.
When you start to quibble over definitions it becomes crucially important to define your terms – the most important term being “God”.
A Correct Understanding of the Word “God” is Essential in Deciding if Jesus Claimed To Be God
The casual atheist or newly initiated JW has probably not thought too long and hard over what “God” actually means. Whilst the concept of the Christian God is as vast as the ocean is wide, we can adequately simplify things to help reveal the absurdity of saying Jesus never claimed to be God.
God is the Creator of the Material Universe
A foundational and exclusive attribute of the Christian God is that He is the Creator of all creation. In Christianity and Judaism no other entity has the ability to create “ex nihilo” – out of nothing.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. -Genesis 1:1
With this in mind we can rephrase the question about whether Jesus claimed to be God into the following format.
Did Jesus claim to be the Creator of the Universe?
When we phrase the question in this way even the newest Christian can see the absurdity of the claim that Jesus never claimed to be God.
The New Testament is full of the teaching that Jesus created all created beings. (John 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:1-2, John1:10, Ephesians 3:8-9)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. -John 1:1-3
Of course to the atheist this is just one of many knock downs and as surely as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, the atheist will once again regroup and refocus the attack.
So, we can no longer say that Jesus didn’t claim to be God according to the New Testament eye-witness testimonies…
Well who said we can trust the New Testament accurately represents the teachings of Christ?
And so it continues…