- It is often argued by sceptics that the church has, over time, inflated Jesus’ claims about himself
- It is a matter of historical record that early Christians worshipped Jesus as God, even pagan opponents, such as Pliny the Younger record this.
- The argument that the Church inflated the claims about Christ fails on a number of levels, but, perhaps the clearest is that the time-line involved is too short.
- The books of 1 Corinthians and Galatians are almost universally accepted by scholars as having been written in the mid 40s A.D. about twenty years after the events that they record.
- In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul cites a creedal hymn about the death and resurrection of Christ, which had been passed down to him. We know from Galatians that Paul met with Cephas (i.e. Peter) around 34-37 A.D. and Cephas would doubtless have passed the core teachings about Jesus down to him at that time, only years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- Even the leader of the Jesus Seminar, which argues that 90% of the recorded sayings of Jesus in the New Testament are false, has recently argued that the Gospel message was held by Christians from day one, although he argues from this that the church was wrong from day one!
- Another question raised by sceptics is why Jesus didn’t just tell us that he was God. The gospel of Mark is probably the first gospel to have been written and in it, Jesus is asked whether he is “the Christ, the son of the Blessed One” to which he replies “I am” – this is not a question of interpretation. Even though some may not accept its authority, they do so because they don’t like what it clearly says.
- This question as to whether Jesus’ claim to being God has been inflated can be answered using a passage of scripture accepted by almost all scholars.
- In Ezekiel 34, the shepherds of Israel are denounced for feeding themselves at the expense of the sheep, until the true shepherd rescues the sheep from their abuse. At the end of the passage, it is made explicit that God is the good shepherd, the people are the sheep and that the bad shepherds are the religious leadership.
- We should note from this passage that God is disgusted at the behaviour of the bad shepherds and that he himself has promised to intervene as a good shepherd, to seek out the lost and rescue them.
- In Luke 15:1-7 Jesus compares himself to a good shepherd who searches out the lost sheep and asks the religious leaders whether they would not leave the ninety-nine safe to seek after the one lost sheep.
- “This is who I am” said Jesus, and this is why the bad shepherds killed him. Jesus wasn’t killed because the religious leaders misunderstood him, they killed him because they understood.
Responses to questions
(In response to a question about why God would allow bad shepherds) – All leaders fail. Leaders are called biblically to lead first by example. Our trouble is that we are so obsessed with image that we sacrifice honesty. The extent to which the leader is able to be honest and vulnerable about struggles and failings is the extent to which the congregation will be able to have the same honesty and vulnerability. David remained a leader, even after his sin with Bathsheba.
(In response to the accusation of the film “Zeitgeist” that the claims of early gods are the same as the claims of Jesus, and that the claims of Jesus are simply derived from those of earlier stories about gods) – In Greek mythology, for example, the stories of the gods are influenced by other stories. Pre-Christian stories of pagan gods contain none of the alleged similarities with the story of Jesus, these only appear in the pagan stories centuries after Christ. Also, there is a universal need for redemption which is found in all religion and in all good literature.