Who do you say that I am? #5
I believe Jesus was a man (as opposed to a myth). I believe that the enormous amount of Christian literature that arose in the years following the time of Jesus are evidence that there was something of great magnitude that happened 2,000 years ago. All of the literature would not have arisen if nothing happened! Some might argue that there was a group of people who started the myth of Jesus—but I don’t believe they could have come up with such a unique teaching. I believe that something of importance happened 2,000 years ago around the time of Jesus’s supposed life, and if Jesus was not the cause of it then there would be other literature from the time period describing a different cause.
However, the literature that I take as evidence for the existence of Jesus was written several years after Jesus’s life, and there are many discrepancies between the different texts. I believe that in that time period after Jesus’s death many oral traditions developed and the truth and historicity of Jesus may have been exaggerated or lost. I also believe that not only are the gospels a product of oral tradition, but they are also a product of individual interpretation about the meaning of Jesus’s teachings and life. Because of this I hold the belief that many liberal Christians of the early 19th century would hold—that we should use our reason to look critically at the Bible to determine for ourselves what we consider to be the truth and what we consider to be fiction or exaggeration.
I believe that in the years following Jesus’s death the person of Jesus was mythologized by the oral traditions. Because of this possibility I am skeptical of stories of miracles and the resurrection. However, I am still uncertain about these topics, and my beliefs waver so I will not go into them here. But one thing that I believe strongly is that Jesus was not God. Of the four gospels, John is the only one in which the belief that Jesus is God appears. Most scholars agree that this gospel was the last gospel written and probably written sixty or more years after Jesus’s death. I believe that a document written so long after Jesus died would contain the most mythologized of oral traditions. Like the Unitarians I tend to dismiss the passages of the Bible in which Jesus asserts himself as God and focus on the ones in which Jesus prays to God and preaches about God the Father as separate from himself.
This leads to the question “Was Jesus the son of God?”. I do not think that Jesus was the divine son of God, but honestly I am not sure if I have strong support for this belief. I believe Jesus was a normal human but that he has been mythologized. I believe that the perfect characteristics that we usually ascribe to Jesus have been found in other enlightened men such as the Buddha. I look at Jesus in the tradition of enlightened men, and because I see the way of life Jesus lived as achievable by other human beings I do not feel that Jesus needs any divine status to explain his perfection.. I feel his actions are human and within our reach, and that we should use Jesus as a model for becoming better persons.
What I hear about Jesus from society and the ancient texts definitely impacts my view of Jesus, but personal experience has more to do with my belief about who Jesus was than anything else does. I have had experiences which led me to believe that love is the greatest thing in the universe, and that God wants us to love. Because of these beliefs, the idea of Jesus that I have is primarily centered upon the view of Jesus portrayed in the gospels as a teacher who taught that to love God and to love one’s neighbors are the greatest commandments. I view Jesus as a man who felt that he was teaching others to live the way God wanted them too. And because I have the conviction that God wants us to love, because I believe that love was central to Jesus’s teachings, and because I believe that the huge amount of literature that sprang up after Jesus’s death implies that something monumental happened during the time of Jesus’s life, I believe that Jesus really did know how God wants us to live, and that he taught this message to others.
I believe that Jesus’s original message has been lost. We only have traces of the historical Jesus. As I struggle to find the historical Jesus almost all of my beliefs may be abandoned. But no matter how much I question, and no matter how many beliefs I discard, there is one conviction that I believe will be with me always: the belief that Jesus taught that we should love one another.