The Test of Tebow

Tim Tebow

Image by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

Lately there has been quite a stir on the internet about Tim Tebow, the professional football player that so many love to hate. Ever since he’s come into the spotlight a few years ago, I’ve honestly been surprised and made uncomfortable at some of the irrational hatred directed towards Tebow. A few weeks back, George Weigel voiced what I’ve often wondered:

No, Tim Tebow is a target of irrational hatred, not because he’s an iffy quarterback at the NFL level, or a creep personally, or an obnoxious, in-your-face, self-righteous proselytizer. He draws hatred because he is an unabashed Christian, whose calmness and decency in the face of his Christophobic detractors drives them crazy. Tim Tebow, in other words, is a prime example of why Christophobia—a neologism first coined by a world-class comparative constitutional law scholar, J.H.H. Weiler, himself an Orthodox Jew—is a serious cultural problem in these United States.

While I’ve thought this, I never wanted to express it out of fear of looking like a christian with a persecution complex. But hatred for Tebow because of his religious convictions is really out there, it’s not something that we can just dismiss. Take for instance this ugly, hate filled rant by Jeff Pearlman (who has written for Sports Illustrated and

Tim Tebow scares me, and judging from his father’s website, his upcoming Super Bowl ad and mounting knowledge of his way of life, he should scare you, too. Tim Tebow doesn’t play football merely for the joy of the game. He plays football because he wants to spread the word of Jesus Christ. But not merely spread it. He wants you to accept it and, if you don’t embrace it, he wants you to think again about embracing it. And, if you still don’t embrace it, he wants you to think again. And again. And again. If, in the end, you’re still not sold, you will burn in hell. This is not merely Tim Tebow’s opinion ”but he knows it, in his soul and heart and mind. Christians who accept Jesus will spend an eternity in bliss. Those who don’t are doomed.

Some call this faith.

I call it f***ing insanity.

I know, I know ”everyone has a right to believe what they want … faith is admirable … you’ve gotta respect his feelings. Well, bulls***.

I do not have to respect this sort of damaging craziness, where a group of people go to foreign, oft-Third World nations and convert the so-thought-of “savages” (ie: those who don’t know Christ).

Forgive the expletives and straw men. I suppose I can appreciate Pearlman’s honesty. Don’t misunderstand me, it would be absurd to say that everyone who hates Tebow hates him because he did a pro-life Super Bowl ad with Focus on the Family, or that he said he was going to save himself for marriage, or that he does missionary work and puts scriptures on his eye black.

I’m sure there are a ton of people who dislike him for the same reason they dislike Brett Favre. Call it media-fatigue syndrome. People simply get annoyed of hearing how “he wears his heart on his sleeve” and “he just knows how to win”. As a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I can sympathize. The fanbase falls in love with just about every undersized hustling scrub that dons the birds on the bat. (see Eckstein, David) I’ve come to loath the adjectives “scrappy”, “gritty” “little things” and “hustle” when they come out of people’s mouths.  Dealing with fans of those players makes me tired.

But can we just admit that some — like Jeff Pearlman and his merry band of followers for instance — despise Tim Tebow because he is an outspoken evangelical Christian? Or to put it more mildly, can’t we just confess that some fans would dislike Tebow just a bit less if he shared their same worldview? What if he was the same player, but was very outspoken about animal rights, or gay marriage, etc.? Sports tends to bring out our irrationality, but I’ve seen too much mockery, derision and just plain venom spewed in his direction for comfort.

I will grant that I believe that because Tebow is so outspoken about controversial issues does open himself to criticism. I think every person’s worldview is up for debate and should be tested on its logical consistency, correspondence to reality, explanatory scope and power, etc. But far too often this isn’t the case, rather we get the really bizarre and irrational disgust and disdain. Or often I see that “he should just keep his beliefs more private”, but these people are often not private about their own beliefs, like the belief that Christians or pro-lifers should keep their mouth shut.

For Christians, I think Tebow presents us with a challenge and an opportunity to discuss our faith, or the Christian perspective on the abortion issue and premarital sex. In case you haven’t noticed, here in ‘merica a lot of people pay attention to football, and many that don’t at least pretend to around the lunch table. And these people very likely have an opinion about Tebow.

If it comes up, I believe we should come right out and ask why it is that  they don’t like him. If they bring up some of his convictions, ask them what about his convictions they disagree with. Hopefully you’ve done your homework and obeyed 1 Peter 3:15, which says “but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

If you haven’t, well…get with it. There are a ton of places on the internet where Christians can begin to become equipped to make the case for Christianity and handle some of the toughest objections critics can raise. There’s really no excuse for Christians to not be able to offer reasons for their faith. Being the lightening rod that Tebow is, he’s given believers an open door to get into the game in the field of sharing our faith, if you can pardon the terrible pun. I believe that is pretty much what Tebow is going for.


Is Intuition an Unjustifiable Reason for Faith?

The Thinker

Image by 4johnny5 via Flickr

The writers at tell us that those who are more intuitive are people who are more likely to have faith in God.

Shenhav and his colleagues investigated that question in a series of studies. In the first, 882 American adults answered online surveys about their belief in God. Next, the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

The headline of the article reads that “belief in God boils down to a gut feeling”. I think some may read this article and walk away with the feeling that belief in God is therefore unjustified, or even irrational. To use an example, a football coach may decide to “go for it” on 4th and short based on a hunch and have it end up backfiring and costing his team valuable field position, or possibly even the game. The last thing fans want to hear from the coach is that he went with his gut. Intuition isn’t always the best justification for our beliefs.

But when considering the question of God’s existence, the answer is not like taking a math quiz or gambling field position in a football game. Some truths that are known intuitively are perfectly justified. Intuition could be defined as pure, untaught, inferential knowledge. In other words, some things are self-evident. Take for instance moral facts. Moral facts cannot be proven scientifically. You can describe what happens to a woman psychologically or physiologically when she is being raped by a man, but science cannot tell you why one ought not to rape a woman. That is something we infer based upon on our moral intuitions. We just know that some things are just plain wrong. Thomas Aquinas once wrote  “A truth can come into the mind in two ways, namely as known in itself, and as known through another. What is known in itself is like a principle, and is perceived immediately by the mind….It is a firm and easy quality of mind which sees into principles.”

Moreover, if we continue to ask for justification for everything we can possibly know, we fall into an infinite regress. Greg Koukl states that..

If it’s always necessary to give a justification for everything we know, then knowledge would be impossible, because we could never answer an infinite series of questions. It’s clear, though, that we do know some things without having to go through the regress. Therefore, not every bit of knowledge requires justification based on prior steps of reasoning. Eventually you’re going to be pushed back to something foundational, something you seem to have a direct awareness of and for which you need no further evidence.

Furthermore, if God does exist and he wants to be known and he wants us to act a certain way towards him and our fellow-man, one way he can make himself known is through instilling in intuitions so that we respond in such a way he would like. We can then choose to stifle those intuitions, play dumb and demand an unreasonable amount of evidence – or we can choose to respond.

Finally, I would also say that being a more reflective person does not necessarily mean one will end up being an atheist or an agnostic. Quite the contrary. As Francis Bacon famously quipped. “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

When one seriously reflects on things such as what could be the first cause of the universe, or why the universe displays such exquisite design, or what is the basis for moral facts, or how the Christian faith originated, they will find that faith cannot only be grasped intuitively, but also intellectually.

If Jesus is the Messiah, Why Don’t More Jewish People Believe in Him?

Jews for Jesus branch in New York City.

Image via Wikipedia

A skeptic I was speaking with recently brought up the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Implicit in his questionings was really an argument, which went something like this:

  1. Christians claim that Jesus is the Messiah as predicted by the Old Testament.
  2. Most Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah.
  3. Therefore, Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

There are two major problems with this line of reasoning. First, this is an appeal to popularity. Not long ago, people believed that the earth was flat. Just because a belief is widely held doesn’t make it a correct belief. The popular opinion of the Jewish people could be wrong.

Secondly, this is a wild overstatement. Many Jews do accept Jesus as the Messiah. At the earliest point of the history of the church, only Jews were Jesus’ followers. There are congregations of Jewish Christians across the globe today, including many in Israel.

Furthermore, Jesus himself predicted that he would be rejected by most Jews of his era. He was not at all what many Jews expected of the Messiah, and little has changed to this day. Their understanding of the Messiah was that he would be someone who would overthrow Israel’s oppressors and usher in world peace, not be crucified on the cross like a criminal. To hang on a tree, in their view, is to be cursed by God. (see Deuteronomy 21:23) However, in Mark 12 Jesus predicted he, like so many of God’s prophets sent to the nation before him, would be rejected, mistreated and killed.

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

The meaning of the parable is clear. The vineyard is Israel (see Isaiah 5:1-7), the tenants were the people of the nation, the prophets were the servants. Jesus viewed himself as the Son and heir of the kingdom. Even skeptical New Testament scholars like those of the Jesus Seminar accept this as an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. Mark records that Jesus went on to say that the vineyard owner would do away the vineyard owners and give the vineyard to a nation that will produce the fruits – which the bible indicates is the church, which consists of both Jew and Gentile. No one has a special place with God because of their ethnicity. (see Ephesians 2:12-15, Gal. 3:28, 6:14-16)

History also tells us that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; and the Jews, sadly, became dispersed across the world. Only in the past century have they been gathered as a nation again. Jesus not only predicted his rejection in this parable, but also the destruction that followed in 70 A.D. (see also Matthew 22:1-14, Mt. 24) Note that this does not make the church “special” any more than Jews are special because of their ethnicity. Paul warns us that just as judgment came to Israel for their rejection, so we too can be judged for our unbelief. He goes on to say that God’s gifts toward Israel and their calling is without repentance. (See Romans 11) God “so loved the world”, which includes people of all nations, including the Jews through whom the Messiah came.

So the argument raised by the skeptic is demonstrably fallacious and furthermore disproved by history. It does nothing invalidate the claims of Christianity, if anything these objections can be used to strengthen Christianity’s claims.

Rapture?! I hardly know her! But seriously folks…

Harold Camping‘s latest failed prediction has given atheists plenty to poke fun at. Heck, I cracked my fair share of rapture jokes.  However, some of what I saw on the internet was “guilt by association” type of arguments made at Christians. In a nutshell, they went like this:

  1. Camping and his followers are barking mad.
  2. Camping and his followers are Christians.
  3. Therefore, Christians must all be barking mad.

I don’t think I have to point out that this argument simply doesn’t follow. Most Christians do not try to divine specific times and dates of the return of Christ. In fact, based on the teachings of Jesus found in the New Testament, they are told that they cannot. (Mk. 13:32)

As far as the nature of the second coming goes, there are diverse views within the pale of orthodoxy and there is plenty of room for debate. What we do see from the New Testament — building on ancient Old Testament prophecy — is a view that God will remake the earth and cosmos entirely. This both affirms the goodness of the old creation, but a defeat and removal of its mortality and corruption. This is a great and purifying hope for Christian believer. (Titus 2:11-13, 1 John 3:1-3) However, I think it is this hope that the atheist finds most implausible, thus the jokes.

What are the grounds for believing such a wild story? The Christian faith is based not on a revelation some man claimed to have had while sitting in a cave, but rather on the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus. The early disciples claimed that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that He had appeared to them on various occasions, individually and in groups. Jesus’ resurrection vindicated his claim to be the Messiah. When the church at Corinth asked about the nature of the resurrection of the dead, St. Paul started by quoting an early Christian creed. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 15, and it says:

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles… (1 Corinthians 15:3-7, New International Version)

Critical scholars believe that Paul received this creed sometime within 1-3 years of the crucifixion of Jesus — so this material comes early from the event itself. Later in the same chapter, Paul speaks of a time where Jesus will return in power and put all his enemies “under his feet”, including death, which is called the “last enemy”. (1 Cor. 15:20-28)  This wasn’t something Paul invented; those who followed Christ before his crucifixion confirmed that what Paul was teaching was indeed the gospel. (Gal. 1:18-2:9) This vision of Christ’s coming again and renewing the universe was part of the early message of the church.

Prior to Paul’s description of the end times, Paul makes a modus tollens argument for the resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. (see verses 12-19)

  1. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised
  2. Christ has been raised
  3. Therefore, there is a resurrection of the dead.

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul capsulizes the Christian belief of the resurrection nicely:

 13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18, NIV)

So while such a thing seems far out to the naturalistic mind, these are traditions come from those who saw him after his resurrection. Where did they get it?  The think the answer is obvious. In anticipating the return of their Lord, these early disciples spread their message throughout the known world within a few decades, despite facing enormous persecution, making it difficult to charge them with not being sincere in what they believed.

On atheism, there is a different eschatology, one without such hope.  Scientists tell us that the universe is expanding, and everything in it is growing farther apart. As it does, it grows colder and colder, and its energy is used up. Eventually all the stars will burn out and all matter will collapse into dead stars and black holes. One day there will be no light at all; not to mention no life. All that will remain is a universe in ruins — dead galaxies expanding into never-ending darkness. There is no hope for any escape.

On this view, man is a doomed race in a lost and dying universe. If there is no immortality, our end is little different from the bug we step on. All the long hours we use in play, study, friendships, work, etc. in the final analysis is utterly meaningless. This is why Friedrich Nietzsche looked at the death of God as the ushering in of an age of nihilism. For without God and immortality, everything becomes meaningless, other than the meaning that you make up for yourself. There is no ultimate significance or objective meaning to man or the universe. I bet this wasn’t a topic of much discussion at post-rapture parties.

That itself is not an argument for God, but my explanation where the belief in Christ’s second coming came from — historical events — was. Considering the existential significance of the matter, it would be foolish to shrug off Christianity because of some of his more flaky followers.  If there is even a chance that the immortality can be found through Christ, then it is worth the time in putting Christianity’s truth claims to the test; really looking into them with an open mind and heart. Yeah, I know I’m getting a little Blaise Pascal here, but Pascal had a point. Yes, Camping and his bunch sadly are probably a bit crazy with their mathematical divining and comic book-like interpretation of the end times, but that doesn’t mean the gospel itself isn’t credible. Just think about it.

Our Universe: Design, Chance or Necessity?

Stunning View of Starburst Galaxy (NASA, Chand...

Image by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr

In my last post, I admitted my doubts about neo-Darwinian evolution. Evolution is a broad term, specifically my doubts concern the theories of common descent and random mutation plus natural selection as the vehicle for evolutionary development. My reticence stems from the lack of transitional forms found in fossil records, the complexity of the fossil forms found in the Cambrian explosion, the utter lack of scientific evidence for the theory of abiogenesis, and the amount of organisms found at the cellular level that are ‘irreducibly complex’.

But forget the evolution debate for a minute. Over history,while there has been intense debate, even the most conservative theologians usually ‘agree to disagree’ regarding their interpretations of the first few chapters of Genesis. Some believe in a literal six-day creation, others, an old earth and a form of progressive creation, and others believe in evolutionary creationism. I honestly feel free to go wherever the evidence leads. I just think the evidence for Darwinian evolution isn’t as good as we’re led to believe.  But let’s just say I grant the naturalist evolution; for evolution to even take place the universe has to have a staggering amount of ‘fine-tuning’, which points to the existence of God. What do I mean?

First, the term fine-tuning is a neutral term and isn’t necessarily meant to insinuate that there is a fine-tuner. Rather it just means there are certain constants of nature, such as gravity, or the subatomic weak force which are unchanging quantities that have to be extremely precise to have life. The tiniest fraction of variation from their real values results in an early universe that cannot permit life to evolve. To say that life as we know it is balanced on a razor’s edge is a massive understatement. Some examples that philosopher Robin Collins uses to drive this point home are:

  1. If gravity had been stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10 to the 40th power, then life-sustaining stars like the sun could not exist.
  2. If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and thus life would not be possible.
  3. Calculations show that if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as 5%, life would be impossible.
  4. If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as 1 part in 10 to the 60th power, the universe would have either quickly collapsed back on itself, or expanded too rapidly for stars to form.

There’s also arbitrary quantities put into the first conditions of the big bang, such as the amount of entropy in the universe. Sir Roger Penrose, the famous mathematical physicist who has co-authored two books with Stephen Hawking, calculated the odds of the low-entropy state of 1/10^10^123. That’s just inconceivably low odds, and now we’re just piling on. You can see him explain below.

The degree of  this type of precision for some of these examples would be like a blindfolded man choosing a single marked penny in a pile large enough to pay off the United States’ national debt. There are just unfathomable odds against a life permitting universe happening.

So was this universe we observe just a happy accident? Some naturalists say we shouldn’t be shocked that we won some sort of cosmic lottery, because after all, we’re here! Philosopher John Leslie uses an illustration which I think hits the mark. (Pun intended…read on). Say you’re scheduled to be executed by firing squad, and 100 trained marksman are going to perform your execution. You hear the guns go off, but then to your absolute utter surprise you notice that you survived unscathed. You wouldn’t say to yourself, “Of course all the shots missed, otherwise I wouldn’t be here to notice that I’m still alive!” No, you think the thing was some sort of set up; that it was some sort of conspiracy.

Or to go back to the marked penny illustration. Let’s say that the blindfolded person had to find the penny, not just once, but several times in a row, or they’d be shot at gunpoint. If the blindfolded person picked up the ‘life-permitting’ penny at random several times in a row, she’d have to think something was fishy.

Was a life-permitting universe necessary? It’s implausible to think so given the constants are not determined by the laws of nature. Some might say they’ll eventually show themselves to be necessary, that one day there will be a Theory of Everything.  The best candidate so far has been M-theory, but it fails to predict a life-permitting universe.

The Hail Mary pass to get rid of the fine-tuning to date has been the Multiverse hypothesis, something that is just a bloated metaphysical idea hiding under the guise of science. There’s no evidence whatsoever for a so-called multiverse and it seems to me that it’s easily shaved off by Occam’s razor. Robin Collins gives 5 reasons for rejecting it, for the purpose of this post I’ll share just one. As a general rule, all else being equal, we should prefer theories for which we have independent proofs, and we have independent reasons for believing God exists. Here’s his illustration:

Most of us take the existence of dinosaur bones to count as very strong evidence that dinosaurs existed in the past. But suppose a dinosaur skeptic claimed that she could explain the bones by postulating a “dinosaur-bone-producing-field” that simply materialized the bones out of thin air. Moreover, suppose further that, to avoid objections such as that there are no known physical laws that would allow for such a mechanism, the dinosaur skeptic simply postulated that we have not yet discovered these laws or detected these fields. Surely, none of us would let this skeptical hypothesis deter us from inferring to the existence of dinosaurs. Why? Because although no one has directly observed dinosaurs, we do have experience of other animals leaving behind fossilized remains, and thus the dinosaur explanation is a natural extrapolation from our common experience. In contrast, to explain the dinosaur bones, the dinosaur skeptic has invented a set of physical laws, and a set of mechanisms that are not a natural extrapolation from anything we know or experience.

In the case of the fine-tuning, we already know that minds often produce fine-tuned devices, such as Swiss watches. Postulating God–a supermind–as the explanation of the fine-tuning, therefore, is a natural extrapolation from of what we already observe minds to do. In contrast, it is difficult to see how the atheistic many-universes hypothesis could be considered a natural extrapolation from what we observe.

So it would seem that chance and necessity are rather implausible in comparison to a super-intelligent Designer. Like with Leibniz’s cosmological argument, this doesn’t prove with 100% certainty that God exists, but I think it’s a rather strong argument. When coupled with other arguments, a very strong case for God’s existence can be made. Such design arguments are what led the famed atheistic philosopher Antony Flew to conclude there was a designer. Says Flew –

“I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source. Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”

Isaiah 45:18

For this is what the LORD says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it;he did not create it to be empty,but formed it to be inhabited—he says:“I am the LORD, and there is no other.

De-fanging the Humanist Media Blitz Pt.2: Women

Click to enlarge

The New Humanist advertisement campaign is an illustration of quote-mining at its ugliest. The sad thing is that in a culture that does little critical thinking of its own, these sound-bites may prove to be effective in showing that Christianity is inherently sexist, or worse yet, misogynistic.

Forgive me for my use of bullet-points. Here are just a few things to consider in light of the rest of the Bible and Christian history about the role of women.

Continue reading

Who Did Jesus Think He Was? A Historical Approach

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Image via Wikipedia

Liberal scholars of the New Testament claim that Jesus’ opinion of himself and the early church’s opinion of Jesus are two very different things. They claim that Jesus never said he was the divine, unique son of God; that such a claim was just an early church invention.

This is problematic from a historical perspective. For one, in a monotheistic nation such as Israel, such a claim would be considered blasphemy. Yet this is what the early church proclaimed from what we read in the book of Acts. Historians date Acts around 60-64 AD, 27 years after the crucifixion. In it, we find sermons  that contain oral summaries in the text that can be traced to the earliest traditions of the church. Luke ascribes these sermons to the apostles themselves, but even most skeptical scholars would grant that such sermons were standard messages preached during the very earliest times of the church.

In these sermon summaries we find proclamations of Jesus’ resurrection, and the disciples calling Jesus the Messiah, Lord, the Son of God, and claiming that salvation was found exclusively through Christ. Such teachings dated so closely to the life of Christ show that these teachings were grounded in Christ’s own teachings. We also have the epistles of Paul, the earliest on record is 1st Thessalonians, which most scholars believe is an authentic letter of Paul, and is dated to 52 AD.

This dates back 19 years from the crucifixion and in it is written:

10And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10, King James Version)

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he states he met with Peter and some other church fathers three years after his conversion (which most believe happened 34-37 AD) and then 14 years after, and both times they confirmed his message as accurate. This is extremely early source data, leaving precious little time for legend to grow.

Moreover, we also have Jesus’ very own words. Even the most skeptical of scholars like the Jesus Seminar attribute Mark 12 to Jesus, since it is also found in their personal cheese-ball source, the (gnostic *cough*) Gospel of Thomas. Here is the text:

1And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

2And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.

3And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

4And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.

5And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

6Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

7But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.’

8And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

9What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.

10And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:

11This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

12And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

(Mark 12:1-12)

The meaning of parable is clear.

  • The vineyard = Israel
  • God = the owner
  • Tenants  = Jewish religious leaders
  • The prophets = servants
  • Jesus = the one son

Jesus that he viewed himself distinct from all the other prophets, God’s special son and last prophet, and heir of the Kingdom of Israel. There he also predicts his rejection while calling himself the cornerstone of the nation. Radical stuff.

If that isn’t enough, we have Jesus favorite title for himself, the Son of Man. Even the most skeptical of scholars accept this as Jesus’ favorite designation for himself based on the historical criterion of dissimilarity. In every Gospel Jesus referred to himself with this title, while it only appears three times in other sources in the New Testament, making such a title to be an unlikely invention of the church. Such a title held great significance in ancient Jewish tradition. A key passage about this title is found in the Old Testament Book of Daniel:

13I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.

14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14, King James Version)

Now consider this passage and how it corresponds to Jesus’ response to the high priest during his trial before he was crucified.

61But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?

62And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:61-62)

If this isn’t explicit enough, we see that Jesus did directly refer to himself as the Son of God.

22All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. (Luke 10:22, Matthew 11:27)

There are good reasons to attribute this saying to the historical Jesus.

  1. It appears to be taken from an old source which was shared by Matthew and Luke, which scholars call the Q source.
  2. It doesn’t seem to be a product of early church theology, which teaches us that we can know the son. (A little thoughtful exegesis can account for the discrepancy)

So here we see that Jesus is claiming that he is God’s only son and the only one with exclusive knowledge of the Father.

Most critical scholars will also grant Mark 13:32, based on the criterion of embarrassment.

32But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32, King James Version)

One would think the early church would never ascribe limited knowledge to those who they worship as Lord. This cannot be part of some sort of evolving theology.

So even from a historical approach we have very good reasons to believe that Jesus had a very radical view of his own importance, and yet he called himself humble and meek. We would hardly call someone humble who made such claims unless that person was being truthful. This hearkens us back to revisit C.S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma” found in Mere Christianity.

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.

I could go on, what with the Sermon of the Mount and Jesus quoting the Law, and then following with a “but I say unto you”; where he would raise the bar. We also see him forgiving sins as if he was the chief party wronged. A social critic and cynic philosopher Jesus never would have been crucified, but someone like this radical Jesus would have certainly created a stir.

To close, Jesus asked Peter two questions according to the Gospel of Matthew – 1.) Who do men say that I am? 2.) Who do you say that I am? There are endless different opinions on the person of Jesus, but what did Jesus himself claim? And what are we going do with with such a claim?