Deborah Hage: More on the Jesus question
I have pondered and pondered the column about needing to recognize Jesus as either an impostor or the son of God. Losh simplifies a very complex question by recycling C.S. Lewis’s argument that if Jesus was not the Son of God then he was either a liar or a lunatic. Losh wrote, “Jesus was either the son of God or he was arguably the most fraudulent, hypocritical and vicious impostor to ever victimize the world.” Left out of her assertion is any reference to research that clearly demonstrates that original manuscripts of scripture are not available and never have been. There is nothing extant bearing the signature of the original writers. There are copies of copies of copies. What is available has been examined and researched using careful and thoughtful textual criticism methods by scholars known for their grasp of ancient languages and texts. When the manuscripts available are critically examined, scholars and researchers raise serious questions of textual manipulation by scribes, both accidental and deliberate, and theological manipulation by various layers of translators and church leaders. These textual changes make it clear that it is difficult, if not impossible to determine what was actually, originally written. Yet, there are entire doctrinal stances made by some church bodies on texts that cannot be determined to accurately reflect what either Jesus said or did or what his disciples said or did. There are theologies being preached today that sit on nothing but quicksand.
For some Christians the thought that the Bible available in print today may contain scribal and theological errors not present in the originals is heretical. Those who “proof text” the Bible, that is, point to a particular set of words and base theological/cultural/legal principles on them, have the most difficulty with the results of textual criticism. Those closest to Jesus historically did not claim he was divine. The farther and farther writers get from the historical Jesus the more divine he becomes. The church did not decide the theology of biological divinity until the third century!
Paul, the earliest Christian writer, writing approximately 20 years after the death of Jesus, writes nothing about the birth of Jesus. The man considered to be the first writer to record Christian thoughts and events does not mention the birth of Jesus at all. Mark, written about 20 years after Paul wrote most of his letters, again says nothing about the birth of Jesus. It is clear, the second generation of Christians were born, lived, and died without any particular attention being given to any miraculous circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus.
Now in the 21st century, you can have it both ways. You can look to Jesus as the embodiment of a life lived in response of the call by God to love, love unceasingly, in all ways. You can look to Jesus as the model to live your lives out as if everyone you meet on the street is your brother and your sister … there is no one left outside of the family of God. At the same time you can lay claim to the title, “Christian” and still not find it necessary to believe that Jesus was somehow the only, incarnate, biological son of God. I actually do not find it hard at all.
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