Friday, July 10, 2015

But He's Just a Man

The “historical Jesus” has been sought after for many years.  Whether John Dominic Crossan, Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, Reza Aslan, or Jesus Seminar conferees, critics have dismissed the gospel accounts as a well-meant effort to colorfully promote what was a celebrity rabbi life who met an untimely death.  Why anyone would think the gospel accounts are mythical, inflated, or otherwise altered beyond credibility, is beyond me.  The skeptics argue something like the pagans of Arnobius’ day:
“You worship,” says my opponent, “one who was born a mere human being.”*
Those pagans might have had an excuse for such a comment, not having a copy of the Scriptures readily available.  The so-called Bible scholars I mention at the opening are not ignorant of the facts.  They have read the primary documents and have willfully ignored the obvious statements from the gospel accounts themselves.  Each gospel writer gives internal evidence for his planned purpose in writing.

Luke and John give clear reasons for their accounts.  The careful doctor recounts the history in two parts, introducing the accounts as thoroughly investigated beyond contestation, while the aged apostle plainly states the thesis near the end of his work.
Luke 1:1-4 Acts 1:1-3 John 20:30-31
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The other two writers are not quite as direct in their purposes, however linguistic clues abound, beginning with their openings.  First, Matthew’s opening:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  (Matthew 1:1)
With this summary statement, Matthew seeks to place his account in a direct line with promises found in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  In order to solidify this intent, he establishes the requisite bloodline through a genealogy (Mt 1:2-17), prophetic fulfillment of the birth and surrounding events (Mt 1:18-23), and finally, the anointing of the Holy Spirit by which God places His seal on Jesus (Mt 3:1-17).  These give a proper foundation for the remainder of the book which establishes Jesus’ person, ministry, redemptive work on the cross, and final commission to His apostles.

Mark’s thesis statement also comes at the very beginning.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  (Mark 1:1)
At first reading, one might see this merely as an introductory statement, however a close examination shows that the writer emphasizes the gospel as pivotal throughout.  Note the uses in relation to Jesus.
Beginning of His ministry
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  (Mr 1:14-15)
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  (Mr 8:35)
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”  (Mr 10:29-30)
End of ministry teaching on the Eschaton
And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.  (Mr 13:10)
Anointing before crucifixion
And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.  (Mr 14:9)
Final commission
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”  (Mr 16:15)

In the above examples, the gospel writers were careful to craft their accounts accurately in order to undergird the unwritten, eyewitness accounts and faithfully acknowledge the prophecies pointing to His birth, life, and death.  The idea that there might be a concoction of ideas to consider a man being himself deity and his works as from self-originating divinity is absurd.  Not even the pagans would go this far.

Arnobius addressed the pagan objection of Jesus’ person this way:
Even if that [mere humanity] were true, as has been already said in former passages, yet, in consideration of the many liberal gifts which He has bestowed on us, He ought to be called and be addressed as God.  But since He is God in reality and without any shadow of doubt, do you think that we will deny that He is worshiped by us with all the fervor we are capable of, and assumed as the guardian of our body?
The apologist did not reason that Jesus was less than God, as will be seen below, but wished to address the objection according to their understanding.  Many in the pantheon of gods, had been mere humans but were accorded a divine status after death based on prior works.  Instead he reasoned that the works of Christ were of such a nature, that to deny a status of divinity in relation to the false gods would be a travesty.  And since He is indeed God, how much more worship is deemed appropriate.

After deflecting objections to both His method of execution and person as being base and unworthy of divine consideration, Arnobius anticipated a fit of incredulity from his opponents.
“Is that Christ of yours a god, then?” some raving, wrathful, and excited man will say.
Lest the reader think that the retort is actually an acknowledgement of the Lord’s stature, this is more along the line of: “Do you actually think He’s good enough to qualify?”  The pagans had regard for their gods, and regardless of which they worshiped, qualification to that august group needed to be properly vetted.  How could someone who died the death of a traitorous criminal qualify, regardless of the goodness of his deeds?  That would be unthinkable.

Arnobius’ response?  He is greater than their gods to the greatest degree.
We will reply: God and God of the inner powers; and—what may still further torture unbelievers with the most bitter pains—He was sent to us by the King Supreme for the greatest of purposes.  My opponent, becoming more mad and more frantic, will perhaps ask whether the matter can be proved, as we allege.  There is no greater proof than the credibility of the acts done by Him, than the unusual quality of the miracles† He exhibited, than the conquest and the dissolution of all those deadly ordinances which peoples and tribes saw executed in the light of day, with no objecting voice; and even they whose ancient laws or whose country’s laws He shows to be full of vanity and of the most senseless superstition dare not allege these things to be false.
Not only is Christ very God of what is seen, but also of all that is unseen, working in the hidden places, where no man can fathom or understand, for the greatest purposes.  Being very God, He was sent into this world by the Almighty One, proving Himself: first, through mighty deeds which were not performed in secret but in the light of day, so that none could object; and second, by His teaching against which none could contend.

We see that the questions surrounding Jesus’ origin, life, and teaching are no different in 1700 years.  In order to undermine the force of sin, righteousness, and judgment, mankind seeks to undermine the clear reading of Scripture and mold it according to their own ideas of truth.  The best response is to affirm what our Lord said and did for a fallen, sinful world, with hopes that the opposition might respond of Jesus, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (Jn 7:46) and believe.

*  All quotes from Arnobius are taken from Against the Pagans, I.42.
†  Translated as “virtues” in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, the word virtutes is used in Scripture for miracles and is comparable to “by virtue of.”

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