Alternative Theories of the Identity of Jesus Christ
Note: This article is a partial review of the chapter entitled “Is Jesus a Man, Myth, Madman, Menace, Mystic, Martian, or the Messiah?” in the book, Without a Doubt by Kenneth Richard Samples, Baker Books of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2004.
The Bible clearly and forcefully presents Jesus Christ as the God-man, both fully God and fully man—two natures inextricably entwined beyond the comprehension of mortal man. Whereas the human nature of Christ is apparently easy for most of humankind to accept, His deity—the fact that He was and is God—presents a major stumbling block to the majority of the same.
Although the identity of Jesus Christ is of a physical and spiritual (incorporeal, ethereal, metaphysical) nature that must be accepted by faith in order for one’s salvation-event to be efficacious, the fact of it does not stand without reasonable and historical evidence. A reference to such will be provided at the end of this article. But first consider six alternative theories advanced by the secular and unbelieving world regarding the identity of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ claim to divinity is mythical—attributed to Him by His followers
This is a hypothesis that can be plausible only if several generations had passed between the events and their written recordings. A. N. Sherwin-White, Oxford scholar of ancient Greek and Roman history, has argued that even the span of two full generations is insufficient for myth and legend to accrue and replace historical fact (Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, by A.N. Sherwin-White, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978). Even though this theory is popular among liberal critical scholars, it is highly implausible due to the following reasons:
· The time between the life and activities of Jesus Christ and their recordings in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), which present a divine Christ, was historically very brief. This time period was within about a generation, not nearly sufficient enough time to allow for the formulation and insertion of legends and myths into the biblical account. Furthermore, there are ample written and oral apostolic sources that bridge the gap between Jesus’ death (ca. AD 30) and the writing of the Gospels (ca. AD 70). In fact, some of the Apostle Paul’s epistles (Galatians, 1&2 Thessalonians) were most likely written as early as the 40s or 50s.
· Given the brief time frame between the life and activities of Christ and their recordings in the Gospels, there would have existed ample hostile witnesses to counter such “legends and myths.” If indeed the followers of Christ had purported such invention or exaggeration, all such embellishment and contrivance would have been easily and quickly exposed—and there would have been records of such, which isn’t the case.
· The biblical writers earnestly affirmed to be eyewitnesses to the claims and actions of Jesus Christ, and they knew the difference between fact and myth. Such “eyewitness” verifications are profusely recorded in the Bible: Luke 1:1-4; John 19:35; Acts 2:22-38; 17:30, 31; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:11, 12; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1, 2. There is also ample argument that the authors of the Gospel were either original apostles and thus eyewitnesses to the person and actions of Christ, or they were, at a minimum, close associates of the apostles.
· Supporters (followers) of Jesus Christ had no reasonable motivation to deify a mere man, since by doing so within their monotheistic Jewish culture, would only expose them to persecution and martyrdom—not to mention the damnation of their very souls.
· If in fact disciples of Christ would have “invented” a Messiah, they would have likely created one that would have been more in-line with the Jewish messianic expectations of the time. The life and activities of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, reflect a person quite divergent from the type of Messiah that the first-century Jew anticipated.
· There are first-century and early-second-century secular and Jewish sources written by historians, government officials and early church figures, which corroborate the Gospel’s account of the life and activities of Jesus Christ. Such documents strongly argue against the myth theory concerning the life of Jesus Christ.
Due to the reasons stated above, the myth theory about Jesus Christ must be considered an implausible and inadequate hypothesis, a view that appears to be rooted in unsupported anti-supernatural presuppositions.
Jesus was merely a “great man” and “great teacher,” but He was not God
While many deny the deity of Christ, they are quick to admit that He was a “great man,” in this way disallowing the supernatural while allowing the admission to the unquestionable historicity of Christ. But the very fact that the exposé of Jesus Christ is based upon sound historical sources, both biblical (i.e., the thousands of manuscripts of the Bible are the most authentic documents of antiquity possessed by man) and secular, makes this hypothesis intellectually untenable for the following reasons:
A truly great “man” would never boast such claims, since this would disqualify him from being great.
The great Christian theologian C.S. Lewis made this insightful comment:
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. (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, New York: Macmillan, 1952)
Jesus was an intentional deceiver by making claims He knew were false
Those who hold to this hypothesis make Jesus an evil menace; since to say and do the things that Jesus did, all the while knowing that He was a mere human being, would make Him a very evil man.
But such a premise is in profound discord with everything that is known about the person and life of Jesus Christ. The Gospels reflect an exemplary personal and moral character, one that transcends the frail and imperfect human moral condition. Jesus Christ never exhibited any moral weakness or human-vice throughout His entire 3-year ministry as He faced overwhelming pressures and difficult circumstances, to include physical torture and death.
If Christ was a “deceiver,” He would most certainly have left clues as to His true motivation with those closest to and around Him. Yet, His closest followers and even some of His enemies insisted that He met every situation with courage, honesty, and total moral virtue (Acts 3:14; 1 Peter 2:22, 23; 1 John 3:4, 5). He never demonstrated any sign of being motivated by wealth, fame, power, or pleasure. Only love, truth, mercy, and justice prompted His extraordinary life.
Jesus’ moral example and teachings have laid the foundation for much of the ethical theory embraced and practiced throughout Western civilization. He is widely considered by both Christian and non-Christian alike as the ideal pattern of moral virtue. It is simply unreasonable to conclude that the person who arguably has had the greatest impact on human history in terms of moral virtue was in reality a colossal liar. History, reason, and common sense make this theory of Christ exceedingly improbable.
Jesus was a delusional psychotic by falsely thinking that He was the divine Messiah
Although there are individuals who harbor delusions of grandeur in the mental institutions of today, none of the symptoms of this severe mental disorder is applicable to Jesus Christ in light of His historic record. Jesus Christ always had a secure grip on reality—a profound mental and emotional stability—even when subjected to conditions of mockery and torture. His mind always reflected an amazing clarity, sobriety, and emotional stability. He rose to every occasion with grace, poise, strength, and balance. This is evident from Scripture, as follows:
While there have been cult leaders throughout history (Father Divine, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Herbert W. Armstrong, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Taze Russell, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Sun Myung Mood, Victor Paul Wiewille, and others) who have been motivated by a combination of greed, power, and sexual lust, none can be reasonably compared to Jesus in terms of intellectual and moral virtue, let alone divine credentials such as impeccable morality, fulfilled prophecy, miracles, and the Resurrection. And these points also create a great chasm between Jesus Christ and the founders of many of the world’s great religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Taoism, and others.
Even if mental illness is measured in degrees, Jesus never demonstrated the slightest sign of mental instability or eccentricity. Rather, in light of the fact that Jesus Christ was and is so radically different from every other human being in moral and intellectual virtue, it is entirely reasonable that His claim was true—that He indeed was and is God incarnate.
Jesus was a “mystical guru,” since His claim to divinity was meant in an Eastern mystical sense that “all human beings are divine”
With the growth of Eastern religions in the West over the past several decades, along with the rise of the New Age movement, some people (and groups) now suggest that Jesus was really a mystical sage. New Age advocates even suggest that during Jesus’ so-called lost years (age twelve to thirty, prior to his public ministry), he actually traveled to Persia, the Near East, India, and Tibet to learn from various ascended masters. Jesus therefore developed his “Christ consciousness” and his miracle-working ability during his trek through Eastern mysticism. (Without a Doubt by Kenneth Richard Samples)
This hypothesis is far-fetched for the following reasons:
This hypothesis that Christ is a mystical sage is incoherent, fails to fit the facts, and is based almost exclusively on unwarranted suppositions; therefore, it cannot be taken seriously by anyone of rational stature.
Jesus was in actuality an extraterrestrial
Although this view appears to be extreme, it is suggested here since various UFO-based religions have been promoting this viewpoint for several decades. Also, UFO-related ideas have proliferated in these latter days through the New Age movement, suggesting that it is not out of order to respond to the extraterrestrial hypothesis.
Consider the following, which show this position’s weakness:
Viewing Jesus as an extraterrestrial is not an intellectually credible theory. It doesn’t fit the facts, involves incredible presumptions, and lacks logical coherence.
If the six hypotheses discussed are the chief alternatives concerning the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth, and they are, then by logical process of elimination the historic Christian claim that Jesus was and is God incarnate must be seriously considered. Viewing Jesus of Nazareth as the God-man is the one explanatory hypothesis that enduringly corresponds to history and rationality.
The credentials of Jesus Christ as the divine Messiah are indeed formidable—matchless personal character, incalculable influence upon history, fulfillment of prophecy, power to perform miracles, extraordinary wisdom, bodily resurrection, and the best, most authentic records of antiquity verifying all of it. For a full discussion of the true identity of Jesus Christ the reader is directed toward the article entitled “Jesus Christ—Fact or Fiction” that is posted in both the topical section and the skeptic’s forum section of www.bibleone.net.