One of the great writers of the 20th century was C. S. Lewis. He gave us The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters and one of my personal favorites but rarely read by many, Pilgrim’s Regress. However, it is probably one of his most well-known works Mere Christianity that a statement of his has been mangled and mistranslated about Jesus being either “the Lord, a Lunatic or a Liar.” The actual statement that Lewis wrote about Jesus is the following:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Blunt. Plain. To the point. Lewis did not leave any wiggle room for who he thought Jesus to be; however, and in Jewish homes Jesus often exists as someone else – “the elephant in the room.”
But Jesus doesn’t have to be the unspoken guest in the room. In fact, Explore Messiah…? wants to discuss Him with you through three separate but connected issues:
- Did Jesus really even exist because there are some people out there who try to deny His existence … Seriously!
- What proof is there that Jesus truly rose from the dead because all of Christianity is banking on this idea after all (see 1 Corinthians 15 if you don’t believe me)? and
- Did Jesus actually ever claim to be the Messiah or was He just a really good guy?
Explore all three of the topics if you want or jump around to the one that intrigues you the most. And remember at any time, we are ready to discuss these thoughts with you at the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board.
Did Jesus Even Exist?
This might be one of the strangest approaches ever conceived to answer the question of Jesus’ existence by someone like me. However, I am going to answer this question utilizing the arguments from one of the leading academic atheists in America today – Bart Ehrman. In fact, I would even recommend one of his books – Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (https://www.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062206443).
Surprised? You shouldn’t be because Explore Messiah…? and Tzedakah Ministries has always promised to be honest and forthcoming with you from the very beginning. And I really enjoyed Ehrman’s book as you can tell by all the “sticky notes” and, yes, the colors of the “sticky notes” do mean something as I am more than a little AR about things like that…
Anyway, Ehrman as most good scholars does begins his book by presenting the anti-Jesus arguments:
- View that that the first century historical record is lacking evidence of Jesus’ existence
- View that Jesus is not a major character in the New Testament outside of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (seriously?)
- View that the Gospels are biased, full of contradictions and are unreliable
- View that all the Gospels are based completely on the story of Mark (Q Source)
- View that it is up to those who believe in Jesus’ existence to prove He is real and not the other way around
Response to the Anti-Jesus Arguments
Now I will disagree with Ehrman in some of his rebuttal arguments (but I would still recommend the book) but would also encourage you to read Mike Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels (https://www.amazon.com/Why-Are-There-Differences-Gospels/dp/0190264268). Another book that I don’t completely agree with but it is worth the read as well – especially if you like Roman history.
However, Ehrman does list several Roman and Jewish references to Jesus in the early 2nd century and even Jewish sources that are worth noting. And this pretty well eliminates the first argument against Jesus’ existence…
- Pliny the Younger’s letter of 112 CE writes of the Christian community that were gathering illegal to “sing hymns to Christ as to a god”
- Tacitus in 115 CE wrote the history of the Roman Empire from 14 to 68 CE and mentioned the story of Christ who was executed by Pontius Pilate but whose followers infected the city of Rome during the reign of Nero
- Suetonius in 115 CE wrote a biography of Claudius (41-54 CE) and mentioned how the followers of “Chrestus” were expelled from Rome. NOTE – It should be noted that Ehrman is not real comfortable with this notation but I would argue that this fits perfectly with the changing of the Roman fellowship from being primarily Jewish to Gentile in nature and I do so in my own work Paul’s Conundrum (http://wipfandstock.com/paul-s-conundrum.html).
- Josephus wrote about Jesus in the first century in two separate sections of the Antiquities of the Jews produced in c. 93 CE. One of the sections is brief and could almost be read as a footnote – “the brother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.” The other is much longer and has been subject of much dispute. I agree with Ehrman and other scholars that the shorter and less flowery version is more reminiscent of Josephus’ writings.
- Rabbinic Sources of the Mishnah/Gemara are difficult to quantify because some of the modern versions have omitted those sections dealing with Jesus but I would encourage you to do an internet search on the Talmud, Jesus and words such as Panthera and “black magic in Egypt.” but be aware some anti-Semitic sites use these references to stir up animosity and not for good historical understanding. By the way, Explore Messiah…? and Tzedakah Ministries understands why the early rabbis would invent such stories against Jesus … FEAR that Jesus was/is the Messiah.
But what about arguments #2-4? Is Jesus mentioned outside of the “Gospels”? Is the Bible account of Jesus’ life full of contradictions and unreliable? Can I trust anything that anyone says about Jesus or anything anymore? Here are some answers that you might like to investigate for yourself…
- The entire “Book of Acts” tells the story of the founding of what is called the Early Christian Church around the Roman Empire but more importantly there are some amazing speeches especially in the first few chapters that are all about the life and testimony of Jesus – Acts 2; Acts 3:12-26; 4:8-20; 7:1-60; 13:16-44; and 22:1-14
- Paul was not the only writer of the New Testament after you get past the Book of Acts. Peter wrote two letters that were specifically written to Jewish believers. James and Jude, two brothers of Jesus, each wrote to a group of Jewish believers. John wrote not only three letters to churches but also the book of Revelation. Each of these books expand upon the Gospel story of Jesus.
- And Paul wrote expansively about the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 and recounted in Galatians about his personal encounter(s) with Jesus after Acts 8 (see also 2 Corinthians 12). Honestly, I would encourage those who deny Jesus’ involvement in the New Testament after the Gospels to actually read the New Testament!
- But can we trust the Gospels? Aren’t there a lot of contradictions? Explore Messiah…? could give you all sort of easy charts and answers but you are smarter and deserve better. So … I would encourage you to read an interview of someone that I respect and have read. And while I might not agree with everything that he says, he makes a lot of good points — http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/may/michael-licona-gospel-differences-interview.html?share=ed822G7%2FeKHMbNvYka%2F7N8nR0xIEVITV.
- What about this Mark argument that there is only one Gospel? First, the anti-Jesus crowd needs to understand the Q Source a little better (and for you Star Trek: TNG fans as I am – I am resisting a Continuum joke right now). The Q Source has some merit but it is based on the idea that Mark wrote down everything that Peter recounted to him. However, we have to recognize that Matthew wrote his Gospel to a Jewish audience, Mark to a primarily Greek audience and Luke was the Hellenistic Jewish doctor who was seeking to be analytical about everything and so while they might have collaborated together – they still sought to have their own voice. And there are some who think that Mark was not the first Gospel written, but that it was Matthew.
- Additionally, the Gospel of John is separate in many ways. Matthew, Mark and John are considered the Synoptic Gospels in that they summarized the life of Jesus; whereas, John was interesting in writing about the theology of Jesus. Read John and Matthew and notice the differences for yourself. Additionally, we will examine John more closely in the question below Did Jesus Actually Claim to be Messiah?
So what about the deniers fifth argument that it is up to believers to prove that Jesus existed? Have you ever heard of the debate approach called “Moving the Goalpost.” This is what they are doing. However, I am going to use a quotation from Bart Ehrman, to make a good point about the Jesus deniers:
The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus.” (Did Jesus Exist, page 96)
I know we have thrown a ton of information at you! And we are not trying to get you to buy a lot of books (we promise!) but we want you to know “where we get our information! And so, If you would like to discuss this with us more in a more casual way, come to the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board and someone will either be there or will get back to you ASAP.
What Proof is There that Jesus Arose from the Dead
Pinchas Lapide (1922-1997) was a most unique Jewish individual. He was a well-known Israeli and Jewish theologian, historian, diplomat and died as a non-believer in Jesus. BUT … he adamantly believed that Jesus rose from the dead. He even wrote a book about it called The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (http://wipfandstock.com/the-resurrection-of-jesus.html). But even more than Lapide, other Jewish scholars/philosophers such as Samuel Bergmann and J. Carmel also believe that Jesus arose from the dead as well.
In fact, and despite what you might have been taught during your Bar/Bat Mitzvah days, even the early rabbis in the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 90B) believed that the Torah advocated that resurrection (i.e., life after death) was not just a Christian belief but also a Jewish belief as well. Why? Because Judaism had not yet abandoned a belief in the possibility in the miraculous and the possible as today’s Judaism has (see What’s the Incarnation?).
The legend of the original and miraculous Rainmaker – “Honi the Circle Drawer” – existed before and during Jesus’ time (BT Ta’anith 19A and 23A). There was a hope and belief in something and someone greater than this David Hume-type temporal world in Judaism.
One woman who you might enjoy reading more about is Joy Davidman. She was a fascinating woman and one who found life beyond the Humean-Jewish world of today. She was the wife of C. S. Lewis, a former Communist, and a Jewish believer in Jesus. Davidman wrote (1954) in her work Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments an awesome thought –
“We live in an age of lost faith and lost hope and empty hearts. Today the Commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’, must include, ‘Thou shalt have me.’”
She found faith, hope and her heart when she “explored Messiah.” Surprised, yet? If so or even if not, I hope you will give Explore Messiah…? just a few minutes to try and surprise you just maybe a little…
Messianic Expectation during Jesus’ time
Despite what you might have been told, the first century of the Common Era (CE or AD if you prefer the “old way”) was a hot bed of Messianic expectation. In fact, the Christian Bible in the book of Acts mentions two of the many false leaders – Theudas and Judas – who claimed to be the Messiah and led failed resurrections against Rome (Acts 5:34-39). What we know about the Biblical names of Theudas and Judas is limited except that Theudas is not the same individual mentioned by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews and that Judas led a rebellion against high and unfair taxes. The reason that our knowledge is so limited is because these rebel leaders failed and rarely do failed leaders even get a footnote in history as Rabbi Gamaliel noted:
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men [disciples of Jesus], and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. (Acts 5:38-39; KJV – Public Domain)
Theudas and Judas did get a footnote but that was about it… There are others that Josephus mentions in Antiquities of the Jews but I don’t think you want a history lesson. Okay … just a little more.
Both 2 Chronicles and Malachi were written about 450 to 430 BCE (give or take a decade) and these are the last two official books of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is why Malachi is the last book of the Christian Bible because the compilers put them in order according to the prophets and the Hebrew Scriptures are put in this order – Torah, Prophets and Writings. No big deal but I thought I would explain if you were curious.
Anyway … Christian scholars call the period between Malachi and the birth of Jesus the Intertestamental Period – a term I don’t care for because I don’t feel as if there is a break but I will explain this in a later section of the website. During this “whatever you want to call it” period before Jesus was born, there was a lot of Messianic expectation because one of Malachi’s last promises was this mysterious prophecy in Malachi 3:23-24 (4:5-6 in the Christian Bible numbering):
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (KJV — Public Domain)
Everyone was trying to figure out whether Elijah was literally coming back or someone representing Elijah was coming to announce the
arrival of the Messiah. And, yes, this is the verse that explains why you have a place for Elijah at Passover every year! For it was understood that the Messiah would show up at Passover. Hmm…
This is also why in John 1, we have on two separate occasions people asking John the Baptizer, “Are you Elijah?” He did not understand his role as an Elijah-type but he did get one job right in John 1:29 – he knew how to make an announcement:
This period was also the beginning of the Two Messiahs Movement – Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David. There was an understanding up until Jesus that there would be two Messiahs – one who would suffer for the people and one who would triumph for the people (BT Sukkah 52A). Jesus came to show that there would be One Messiah who would come twice – once to suffer and once to triumph. Interestingly, this idea was so unique and wow-inducing that even the disciples who obviously knew about ben Joseph and ben David were ready for Jesus to do the triumphing part in Acts 1 until Jesus told them that they (and we) would have to wait until it was the right time.
So, yes, the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah in Jesus’ time. And we haven’t even touched Daniel 9:24-27! But more on that passage later as well.
Jesus and the Resurrection Issue
In 2007, James Cameron of Titanic fame decided to go on a hunt for Jesus’ tomb (see http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1593893,00.html for more information). This exploration turned out to be a bit of a bust but his partner in the venture has not given up and in 2015 announced that he really had found the tomb (http://www.jpost.com/Christian-News/Geologists-claim-statistical-findings-science-prove-Jesus-buried-in-Jlem-with-wife-supposed-son-396262). However, there are a couple of problems with this claim – you cannot access the supposed tomb!
Today the Talpiot tomb is sealed underground between apartment buildings in East Talpiot, and its ossuaries are back with the Antiquities Authority. The James Ossuary is with its owner, Golan, who according to The New York Times, keeps the box in a secret location.
So … what about the arguments FOR Jesus’ resurrection? Is there a Jewish argument to be made for it and not just the one that the world sees and calls “Easter”? YES … there are five simple responses that have not only a Jewish basis but are about as Jewish as you can get except there is no Matzah Ball Soup involved.
- The account one can read in 1 Corinthians 15 has THREE Jewish approaches, styles, and arguments:
- The dating of 1 Corinthians is one of the earliest books that Paul wrote – perhaps even the first (circa CE 45)
- The original or earliest manuscripts of this section are in Aramaic – or the language of Judea at the time of the apostles and Jesus
- The manner of 1 Corinthians 15 follows the Jewish style of the Oral Tradition which Paul simply wrote down – and all the eyewitnesses in the 1 Corinthians account were Jewish!
- All other followers of “messiahs” disappeared after the death of the leader – only Jesus’ followers continued and spread the message of the empty tomb as this was important to the Jewish concept of Resurrection. Additionally, they were even willing to die for the message of the resurrection whereas other followers (including Bar Kokhba’s and most of Shabbatai Zevi’ disappeared)
- Miracles were still important in Jewish thought at the time and the resurrection is the greatest miracle of them all
- Post-resurrection followers of Jesus continued to meet at the Temple for worship as Jewish believers (i.e., the “church” began in the Temple) – read Acts 2 and following as it shows that until Acts 10 all the first believers in Jesus were Jewish.
- Arrival of the Holy Spirit coincided with the lone summer feast of Shavuot (aka Pentecost) to bridge Jesus’ First Arrival with the spring feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits (Death-Burial-Resurrection) and His future arrival with the Fall Feasts
If you would like to read a “nerdy” article about the whole James Cameron thing go to http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1157&context=lts_fac_pubs. He was one of my PhD professors and Dr. Habermas is one of the most foremost experts on the resurrection argument.
What about all those resurrection legends?
In two minutes and a couple of seconds, Explore Messiah…? can answer the issue of “all those resurrection legends.” Interested?
Explore Messiah…? realizes that we have thrown a ton of information at you in this section but the resurrection question is really basic and important to the whole issue of believing or not believing in Jesus as Messiah. If you would like to discuss this idea with us more, come to the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board and someone will either be there or will get back to you ASAP.
Did Jesus actually Claim to be the Messiah … and Maybe More?
You have probably heard that Jesus really never claimed to be the Jewish Messiah but maybe only the Gentile Messiah. Many will claim, even within Rabbinic/Modern Judaism, that Jesus was a good man, a godly man, maybe even a prophet, but certainly not the Messiah of the Jewish people because of any number of reasons … which we will discuss later (I PROMISE!). But in this section, we just want to answer one simple question – Did Jesus actually claim to be the Messiah? To begin to answer this question … we are going back in time to “funnest” of all Jewish holidays … Hanukkah.
Yes, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah and you actually can find the story in the New Testament! Check out John 10:22-39 if you don’t believe me but let me give you the highlights of the story here (FYI – some Bible versions call it the Feast of Dedication but it is Hanukkah):
- It is roughly CE 30 and it has been about 200 years since the Maccabees kicked Greek tail but since then everything has fallen apart … the Romans invaded Judea about 45 years before Jesus was born and the people’s view of Messiah had changed from spiritual in nature to one who would come and kick the Romans out – just like the Maccabees had done.
- So in verse 24 when the leadership asked Jesus basically – “Are You the Messiah Already?” They weren’t asking him a spiritual question but a military question and this is key to the whole situation not only then but also now because how many times have you heard that Jesus could not be the Messiah because He did not bring “peace” to the Jewish people and the land?
- So let’s talk about the word peace/shalom and what does it really mean? Shalom has never meant the absence of war. Shalom means wholeness or completeness … ask the rabbi! Therefore, shalom truly indicates an inward, spiritual quality of the heart & soul. And this is what Jesus promised His followers who had a personal relationship with Him in John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” And I think that we could all agree that this type of shalom is better because it is more constant/personal and not near as fickle as “world peace.”
- FYI – When John talks about “the Jews” (and we will talk about this question/concern in another section), he is referring to the Jewish leadership at the time and not all Jewish people. Please remember that John was Jewish!
- Jesus then spends the next several verses in John 10 not only talking about the miracles that He had done which would have qualified Him to be Messiah but also about the fact that He and God are (cue dramatic music if you want) … ONE (John 10:30)! Yes, Jesus used the ECHAD word from Deut. 6:4. He claimed not only to be the Messiah but also equality with God and that He was God. Whoa … this goes beyond simply claiming to be the Messiah does it not?!
Yes, it does and that is why we began this section with the C. S. Lewis statement and began this whole website with the Incarnation Issue. To Explore Messiah…? is a whole big eternal shebangy issue to consider and we want to be completely transparent with you. Jesus was not simply good guy who taught really cool ideas about recycling and being nice to people. He is someone completely different than what you have ever been taught. But He is worth the exploration…
The “I Am” Statements of Jesus – What Was He Really Saying/Meaning?
In fact, John considered the whole Messiahship/Deity/Divinity concept of Jesus so important that he wrote in the Greek about Jesus’ usage of a particular phrase that is compelling, intriguing and revealing — Ego Eimi – that we translate into English as “I Am” but really should be translated as “I I Am.”
Yes … the last paragraph was made intentionally large for a reason. Ego is the Greek pronoun for “I” and Eimi in the Biblical Greek translates as “I Am.” Jesus was personalizing the personal name of God from Exodus 3 that today is never spoken or written for Himself in the synagogue and He was doing it for a very important reason.
Again … we have thrown a boatload at you in this section. I am reminded of one of my favorite songs of all times at this moment because perhaps you are feeling the way that Bono felt when he wrote the lyrics for “I Still Haven’t Found What I Am Looking For” (click here to go see the original 1980s video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3-5YC_oHjE:
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
So … If you would like to discuss this idea with us, come to the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board and someone will either be there or will get back to you ASAP. Until then continue on your journey of exploring just who the Messiah really is because it is possible to find who you are looking for …