Jesus—Who Is He?
SECULAR records that speak of Jesus are few. However, some do exist, and of them The Encyclopædia Britannica says: “These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”
Now ask yourself, If Jesus’ existence were a myth, is it likely that it would have taken until the 18th century for this to be discovered? Also consider the fact that over a billion people now claim to be Jesus’ followers. The influence that his teachings have had upon culture, education, and government—upon the entire course of world history—cannot be denied. Does it seem reasonable that all of this has been the result of something no more substantial than a myth?
If the founder of Islam, the Arabian prophet Muhammad, was a real person, what sound reason do we have to believe that Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, was not? He may have lived some 600 years before Muhammad, but note that the founder of Buddhism, Siddhārtha Gautama—the Buddha, or “Enlightened One”—lived even earlier, over 500 years before Jesus. Yet, if the Buddha was a real person, what sound reason do we have to believe that Jesus was not?
German historian and archaeologist Hans Einsle writes that Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Roman writers Suetonius and Pliny, and especially Roman historian Tacitus “all confirm the historicity of Jesus and the main facts of his life.”
More Than Just an Ordinary Man?
Jesus existed—but as what? Some people contend that he was just an ordinary human, although they admit that he must have been a very wise man, given to speaking the truth. Even his enemies of the first century conceded as much, saying: “Teacher, we know . . . you do not look upon men’s outward appearance, but you teach the way of God in line with truth.”—Mark 12:13, 14.
Others, however, reason that Jesus must have been more than just an ordinary human. Why? Because, for one thing, he could do things ordinary humans cannot do. For example, have you ever met anyone able to walk on water, to turn water into wine, to feed about 5,000 persons with two small fish and five barley loaves, to heal the blind, or to resurrect the dead?—Matthew 14:25, 26; Mark 8:22-25; John 2:1-11; 6:1-13; 11:30-44.
Jesus could also detect things ordinary humans cannot. When a woman told him that she had no husband, Jesus answered: “You said well, ‘A husband I do not have.’ For you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” Surprised, the woman concluded: “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” (John 4:16-19) For an example of Jesus’ remarkable foresight regarding the denial of him by Peter, see Luke 22:31-34, 54-62.
Jesus possessed unusual authority. People were “astounded at his way of teaching, for there he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22) Moreover, Jesus was able to give “his twelve disciples . . . authority over unclean spirits, in order to expel these and to cure every sort of disease and every sort of infirmity.”—Matthew 10:1.
Can We Believe the Reports?
‘But just a minute,’ you may say. ‘Could it not be that the details about what Jesus did have been exaggerated?’ Not according to F. F. Bruce, a retired professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, who writes: “It is not usually possible to demonstrate by historical arguments the truth of every detail in an ancient writing, whether inside or outside the Bible. It is sufficient to have reasonable confidence in a writer’s general trustworthiness; if that is established, there is an a priori likelihood that his details are true. . . . The New Testament is not less likely to be historically reliable because Christians receive it as ‘sacred’ literature.”
Everything speaks for the Gospel writers’ trustworthiness. Although they differ at times in their presentation of details, they do not contradict one another, even as two witnesses to a traffic accident do not contradict each other when one says that a red car coming from the left hit a green car coming from the right, whereas the other says that a Mercedes driving south hit a Renault going north. The fact that the Gospels differ in minor details strongly indicates that they are true. Had their writers wanted to deceive people into believing a myth, they would certainly have coordinated their stories very closely.
Even Jesus’ foes supported the reports about him as being true. We read: “People brought him a dumb man possessed of a demon; and after the demon had been expelled the dumb man spoke. . . . But the Pharisees began to say: ‘It is by the ruler of the demons that he expels the demons.’” (Matthew 9:32-34) Note that the Pharisees did not deny that Jesus had performed a miracle. They just refused to attribute his ability to do so to the operation of God’s holy spirit.
Further evidence that the records about Jesus are true is the fact that if the principles embodied in his teachings are followed, they really work. They result in successful and happy living. Additionally, many long-range prophecies uttered by Jesus, like those recorded in Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21, have seen fulfillment in our day.
Jesus—“Jehovah of the Old Testament”?
Obviously, Jesus was not an ordinary human. He was unique because, as the Bible tells us, he enjoyed life in heaven before coming to the earth. (John 6:38, 62) He thus had knowledge and abilities beyond those of ordinary humans. This helps to explain his miracles and his outstanding wisdom.
But does Jesus’ prehuman existence mean that he was God? A teacher’s manual makes that claim, saying: “Whenever Jesus referred to Himself as ‘I Am’ . . . , He identified Himself as the Jehovah of the Old Testament.” Is this true?
According to the King James Version rendering of Exodus 3:13, 14, Moses asked: “When I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” About this text, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (Hebrew text with English translation and exposition, edited by Dr. J. H. Hertz) says that in the phrase “I am that I am . . . the emphasis is on the active manifestation of the Divine existence.” Its use as a title or name for God was therefore appropriate because by delivering them from Egyptian bondage, God was about to manifest his existence in behalf of his people in an outstanding way. Hertz says that “most moderns follow Rashi [a renowned medieval French Bible and Talmud commentator] in rendering ‘I will be what I will be.’” This agrees with the rendering of the New World Translation, which reads: “I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE.”
At John 8:58, once again the King James Version has Jesus using the expression “I am” in connection with himself, saying, “Before Abraham was, I am.” But here the expression is quite different from the one used at Exodus 3:14. Jesus did not use it as a name or title but simply as a means of explaining his prehuman existence. Thus, according to the New World Translation, the more correct rendering of John 8:58 is: “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”
Clearly, no Scriptural basis exists for the claim that Jesus is the same as Jehovah of the Hebrew Scriptures. Even the teacher’s manual previously quoted admits: “That Christ existed before His birth in Bethlehem does not in itself prove He was God (He could have existed as an angel).” In fact, this is what the Bible teaches. In his prehuman existence, Jesus was “a god,” or divine one, but not the God, the almighty God Jehovah.—John 1:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
Since he is not God, just who is Jesus?
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Jesus’ miracles proved that he was more than just an ordinary human