How James Speaks to the Authenticity of His Brother, Jesus

As the story goes, when Mary was visited by an angel who told her she would conceive and give birth to great man who she would call Jesus, though she had never known a man, she was thoughtful, questioning and even troubled, but said she was willing. (Luke 1:26-35)

When she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, at the angel’s direction, and what the angel said was corroborated, Mary was thankful and happy. (Luke 1:39-47) She believed what the angel told her and gave thanks to God, but that is a mother’s response. Right? Siblings and strangers are a different matter.

On the subject of claims about Jesus, skepticism has always existed. We even find it in the narratives of the four Gospels, themselves. The Bible is candid that way.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (the Jewish religious leaders of the day) largely did not believe the claims of Jesus. Most of the Romans certainly didn’t believe them. Even among the common people, we get the sense that some people wanted to believe Jesus, but their good will toward him changed over the span of his public life.

Jesus was not initially well-received in his hometown, Nazareth. When he read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue and announced that the words he read were fulfilled that day in their hearing, they didn’t take kindly to him. (Luke 4:14-21) They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Lk. 4:22), and they took offense at his assertions. (Mk. 6:3)

It wasn’t like Jesus tried to soften his approach. We might even say that Jesus provoked their skepticism. (Lk. 4:22-27) They changed from curiosity tinged with skepticism to anger as he presumed their rejection of him. (Lk 4:28) They became so angry, they drove him out of town and up to the brow of a hill where they threatened to throw him off a cliff. (Lk. 4:29)

During another encounter with a crowd in the wider area of Galilee, Jesus caused such a stir by the things he was saying that the people accused him of “being out of his mind”. The religious leaders even accused him of blasphemy.

When his family heard what people were saying, they went to “seize him”. (Mk. 3:20-21) His mother and brothers would not even enter in the house where he was talking to the crowd. They stood outside calling to him, but Jesus refused to respond. (Mk. 3:31-35)

Jesus caused such a stir in Galilee that the Jewish leaders sought to kill him (Jn. 7:1) claiming that Jesus was “leading people astray” (Jn. 7:12). In the midst of the stir that Jesus was causing in Galilee (his home region), we learn definitively that “not even his brothers believed in him”. (Jn. 7:5)

His brothers did not merely not believe in him. The challenged him to leave Galilee and go to Judea to make his claims and prove himself there. (Jn. 7:3) It wasn’t that they believed him; they were provoking him, likely hoping he would stop the nonsense: “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Jn. 7:4)

His brothers certainly knew the angry reception Jesus was getting in Galilee would be nothing like the wrath he would experience in Judea where the High Priest and Sanhedrin were headquartered.

After the initial controversial stir that Jesus made in the area in which he grew up, we don’t hear much about the family of Jesus, as Jesus spread out to other areas. They are largely absent from the narrative after that. The highly skeptical religious leaders never softened up to what Jesus was saying, but crowds of more common people did begin to believe him.

The height of his popularity among the crowds was, perhaps, the day he entered Jerusalem on a donkey on what we have come to call Palm Sunday. We get the sense that the crowd believed this was the beginning of their long awaited dream of taking back control from the Roman occupation and the climactic overthrow of Roman rule. It was actually a long awaited beginning of a different sort.

The arrest of Jesus on charges of blasphemy, and his silence in the face of those charges led to a dramatic turn in the perception of the crowd. By the time he was arrested in the garden and hauled before the Sanhedrin (the religious council) and then before Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor), the tide of popular opinion had turned against Jesus.

He wasn’t who they thought he was.

The Sanhedrin had Jesus arrested, looking for evidence to put him to death. (Mk. 14:55) Jesus was silent until the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mk. 14:61) When Jesus said, “I am” (Mk. 14:62), they had the evidence they wanted. They accused him of blasphemy and condemned him to death. (Mk. 14:63-65)

The religious council turned him over to Pilate for sentencing. (Mk. 15;1) The charge of blasphemy meant nothing to the Roman governor who believed the Sanhedrin was acting out of self-interest and concern for their own religious influence. (Mk. 15:2-10) Yet, the crowd was stirred up against Jesus, and they demanded that he be crucified. (Mk. 15:11-15) The rest is history.

Up to this point, the little we know about the brothers of Jesus is that they didn’t believe in him. The last we hear of them, when his family came to call him out of the home where he was causing a stir, Jesus seemed to have turned his back on them. When Jesus was told his family was there calling to him to come out, Jesus said,

“[W]hoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”. (Mk. 3:32-35)

This is the backdrop for some key observations about the family of Jesus, and particularly his brother, James, that speak to the authenticity Jesus and of the Gospel narrative.

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On the Near-Death Experience of an Atheist and Speculation on Its Effect

Whatever our experiences, our beliefs often win out. Our beliefs are not always divorced from what we want to be true, though they may be (by the same token) disconnected from reality. 


The subject of near-death experiences is a deep rabbit hole I have come to find out. I have listened to a number of testimonies recently of people who have had near-death experiences. Trying to make some sense of them led me to look up what Gary Habermas has to say about them. Habermas has been involved in the research of near-death experiences (NDEs) for a couple of decades.

This blog piece follows a summary of what Habermas says about NDEs. (See Habermas on Near-Death Experiences) I am picking up here where I left off about the near-death experience of the famous atheist, Sir Alfred Jules (AJ) Ayer, that is self-described in the article, What I Saw When I was Dead. This piece explores beyond the suggestions Habermas makes (that NDEs may be influenced by worldview) and gets behind the public persona of Ayer after his NDE.

To the extent that Ayer is “arguably the most influential 20th century rationalist after Bertrand Russel“, his encounter with a seemingly irrational near-death experience is interesting indeed.

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Integrity and Authenticity in Belief

If we are influenced by the social influences around us, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?

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I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Keller lately. Today I listened to an old interview in which he said something that got me thinking. He asserted that, for many or most people, whether they are religious or secular often depends on their social influences. I suppose this would mean parents and family as well as peers. Richard Dawkins, the famously vocal atheist has said similar things: what religion we are depends to a large extent on the society in which we grew up.

Keller supported his thesis with anecdotal evidence from his own experience. He says, for him, he was religious initially because he wanted to gain the favor of people closes to him. What does that say about the power of social interactions? What does it say about our beliefs? If Richard Dawkins and Keller are right, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?

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Does God Live Under Your Bed?

A loving God who is just and fair would not foreclose a connection to those who are born without the intellectual capacity to understand or know what is required of them

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I read an autobiographical account by CS Lewis in college in which he recounted his journey from atheist to agnostic to Christian. The twists and turns of his journey were fascinating to me. I gained much insight into my own journey and how God works in the hearts of people who are inclined to follow the prompts.

His journey was like mine in some respects and much different in others. Just as I see how uniquely tailored and personal those prompts were for me, they were just as uniquely tailored for CS Lewis.

The God revealed in the Bible is a Person, and He is personal. He made us in His image. He made us to have relationship with Him. He relates to us as no one can. He knows our innermost being. I have found all these things to be true to my own experience.

After CS Lewis conceded the intellectual point that the universe was more likely created by a Causal Agent than not, he began to sort through the various possibilities for what that Causal Agent could be. Searching out the various world religions, he found that one stood out. One was not dependent on man’s own capacity to know or to understand. All other religions required special knowledge, understanding, and effort to achieve a connection with that Causal Agent.

He reasoned that a loving God who is just and fair would not foreclose a connection to those who are born without the intellectual capacity to understand or know what is required of them. Such a God would have to be accessible by all people, regardless of capacity. The complexities of religion did not seem appropriate to Lewis as he contemplated these things.

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Would I Be Different Than They?

Too politically incorrect for some, too progressive for others


Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him…. John 12:37

Imagine being there when Jesus lived to hear Him speak, watch Him interact with people and maybe even perform a miracle – right in front of you! How could you not believe?!

It’s easy to think these things. But, what would it really be like? Though Jesus performed many signs in front of people, still they didn’t believe Him. People still believed what they were disposed to believe. People saw what they expected to see.

Would we be any different?

Some people heard Him speak and saw the miracles and believed. But more people heard Him speak, saw the miracles and did not believe. In the 1st Century, they accused Him of performing black magic. Today, we might accuse Him of performing ordinary magic, planting people in the audience and doing sleight of hand.

He would most certainly rock our notions of right and wrong, proper and improper, sense and insensitivity. He would challenge our sacred ideas about ourselves and our freedoms, our causes and our individual rights.

He would be too politically incorrect for the left. He would be too progressive for the right.

Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:1-3)