Who Was Jesus?


Who was Jesus? A friend recently asked, “Jesus was a Jew preaching Judaism. Right?” He explained his thought that the people who came after Jesus created a new religion using him as the central figure in spite of who he really was – just a Jewish man preaching Judaism.

This is a popular Internet characterization of Christianity. I am not a scholar on the subject, but I did minor in religion in college. I took all the courses for a religion major, including the thesis course, and I even did the research and wrote the thesis. I would have had a religion major if I had turned in my thesis. I didn’t do it because I didn’t need the major. I took the classes because I was interested in them. I didn’t hand in the thesis paper because I didn’t feel good about it.

A religion major at a small liberal arts school meant majoring in “religion” generally. There were no flavors available for particular study. We looked at all religions, though we focused most heavily on Judaism and Christianity. That is because there was one “Christian” professor and one “Jewish” professor.

The Christian professor took the position that “all roads lead to the top of the same mountain”. Of the Christian road, he was very fond of Liberation Theology that took the position that the God has been changing, progressing and more or less learning to be God throughout time. Liberation Theology was born in South America among the people who were oppressed by the corrupt government and military forces in the 1970’s, and the Catholic priests who espoused this theology believed in taking arms in counter-insurgence against the oppressive political and military regimes.

My “Christian” experience included some very progressive literature. We were encouraged to sit in on lectures given by people like Hare Krishnas and a European Muslim – both lectures that I attended, among others. The Jewish professor was very much the modern, reformed variety – not conservative or Hasidic. This was my introduction to religion and to the Bible.

I did read the Bible from cover to cover in college, not only as an academic exercise as part of my course of study, but because I was drawn to it. In the midst of the all-roads-lead-to-the-same-mountaintop atmosphere in which I studied, I began to be taken by Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) This is because Jesus stood head and shoulders above all the other religious personalities that I read about. There was something transcendentally different about him.

As I have been thinking about the (largely rhetorical) question my friend posed about Jesus, I think of the sweep of the Bible – Old Testament to New Testament, beginning to end. Having been intimate with it for well over 30 years, having read it many times over, and recounting my own journey of discovery, I feel compelled to tackle the question, but the scope of the answer is daunting.

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Balance Between Scripture and Spirit

Reaching for one without letting go of the other

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I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit (I hope) to explain myself a bit. Please forgive me if this gets into a little self-conscious rambling.

I have touched recently on some important doctrinal issues without really addressing them in a doctrinal way. That is intentional, but that leaves me a little self-conscious about it.

I have brushed past many doctrinal issues in this blog, and some of them are themes that I come back to quite often. Recently, I have veered dangerously close to issues like the inerrancy of the Bible and Bible hermeneutics, though I have not used words like that, other than to acknowledge at some points those rocks that exist in the turbulent waters.

I often reflect on the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. I often reflect on atonement, redemption, salvation and similar themes, though I don’t often use those words. Anytime we speak of the cross, the specter of those doctrinal ideas arises.

I am usually not all that conscious about doctrine in the sense of academic formality or denominational purity. This also is intentional, though it isn’t intended in any rebellious, skeptical or heretic away.

What I always aim for is “mere Christianity”.

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Reading the Bible in Context

When we read the Bible, we need to come to it with the understanding of what it is and what it is not.

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We read the Bible, with writings going back to the Bronze Age, through the lens of our modern experience, understanding and knowledge, often without considering that we need to adjust our lens to understand what we are reading.

I do believe that the Bible is Scripture, conveying an accurate understanding of a timeless, changeless, faithful God, but it is written through the eyes of men who lived at particular times in history in particular cultural and historical contexts. It was written by about 40 men, to be more specific, over a period of about 1500 years with the last writing penned about 1900 years ago.

While Paul tells us that Scripture is inspired by God (“God-breathed”),[1] he means that Scripture was “translated”, written out and conveyed through the vessel of people. I don’t mean to get into the subject of inerrancy or whether the Bible must be read literally in all respects. The way God communicated through people in the Bible is different from the claim that Mohammad made, for instance, in regard to the Quran: that he took down the dictation word for word from Allah.

The Bible does not claim to be a word-for-word communication from God (as if God speaks in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek). God inspired what was written, but He didn’t dictate it.

I find this at once remarkable and hopeful. Continue reading “Reading the Bible in Context”

Should the Bible Be Taken Literally?

When demand that the Bible be taken literally in all respects, we are imposing our own standard on the Bible and insisting that it talk to us in that way.

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Whether the Bible should be read and interpreted literally seems to be an open question in the 21st Century. Some Christians, and many people who criticize Christians, seem to think the Bible must be read in a literal, wooden fashion, and it must stand or fall based on what people say is “the literal interpretation” – the Bible is either literally true or literally false, and there is no third position.

So, let me put this out there – do we approach other literature that way?

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