Myth Versus Fact—The Truth About Jesus
WHAT DO YOU THINK? ARE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS FACT OR MYTH?
Jesus was born on December 25.
Three wise men visited Jesus at the time of his birth.
Jesus was an only child.
Jesus was God incarnate.
Jesus was more than simply a good man.
MANY would respond that all those statements are factual. Others might say that it is difficult—even impossible—to know for sure. Perhaps they feel that as long as you believe in Jesus, the answer does not really matter.
The Bible, however, says otherwise. It encourages us to have “accurate knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8) We gain that knowledge by examining the Gospels. They reveal the truth about Jesus, enabling us to separate myth from fact. So let us consider what the Gospels indicate regarding the above-mentioned beliefs.
BELIEF: Jesus was born on December 25.
There is no direct statement in the Bible concerning the month or day of Jesus’ birth. Where, then, did the date of December 25 come from? According to The Encyclopædia Britannica, some who called themselves Christians “wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking . . . the winter solstice, when the days again begin to lengthen and the sun begins to climb higher in the sky.” That same reference work notes that many Christmas customs originated with “pagan agricultural and solar observances at midwinter.”
Would Jesus approve of the celebration of his birth on December 25? Consider: The day of Jesus’ birth is unknown. Nowhere do the Scriptures direct us to celebrate that birth, nor is there any evidence that early Christians did so. In contrast, the Bible provides the exact day of Jesus’ death, and he commanded his followers to observe that day.a (Luke 22:19) Clearly, Jesus wanted emphasis to be placed, not on his birth, but on the value of his sacrificial death.—Matthew 20:28.
BELIEF: Three wise men (or kings in some traditions) visited Jesus at the time of his birth.
Perhaps you have seen paintings or nativity scenes that depict the infant Jesus lying in a manger, surrounded by three wise men bearing gifts. This image, however, is fiction, not fact.
It is true that a delegation from the East paid homage to young Jesus. These visitors, though, were really astrologers. (Matthew 2:1, The New English Bible; The Bible—An American Translation) And did they find Jesus nestled in a manger? No; they visited him in a house. Evidently, they arrived some months after Jesus’ birth.—Matthew 2:9-11.
As to the number of visitors, were there 2? 3? 30? The Bible does not say. Perhaps the traditional number of three arose from their three types of gifts.b (Matthew 2:11) Some have even proposed that each of the so-called wise men represented a different race of mankind. But that idea is not found in the Scriptures. Rather, as one Gospel commentary notes, this particular myth is the product of “an eighth-century historian with a vivid imagination.”
BELIEF: Jesus was an only child.
That Jesus had siblings is clearly indicated in the Gospels. Luke’s Gospel refers to Jesus as Mary’s “firstborn,” implying that she later bore other children.c (Luke 2:7) Mark’s Gospel reports that some in the city of Nazareth equated Jesus with his siblings, regarding him as nothing special. They asked: “Aren’t James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon his brothers? Don’t his sisters still live here in our town?”—Mark 6:3, Contemporary English Version; Matthew 12:46; John 7:5.
Despite what the Gospels say, many theologians maintain that Jesus was an only child. Some suggest that the brothers and sisters in question were actually Jesus’ cousins.d Others speculate that these siblings were Mary’s stepchildren. But consider: If Jesus were Mary’s only child, would those Nazarenes have said what they did? On the contrary, some of them likely witnessed Mary’s pregnancies with their own eyes. They knew firsthand that Jesus was one of many children born to Mary.
BELIEF: Jesus was God incarnate.
The idea that God came to earth and lived as the man Jesus, which is central to the doctrine of the Trinity, has been around for a long time—but it does not date back to Jesus. Rather, The Encyclopædia Britannica observes: “Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament . . . The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies.”
Religion actually degrades Jesus when it teaches that he was God in the flesh.e How so? Consider an illustration. Some workers make a request of their supervisor, but he says that he does not have the authority to grant it. If his statement is true, the supervisor has wisely displayed an awareness of his limitations. If it is not true—if he can grant the request but simply chooses not to—he has been deceptive.
Now, how did Jesus respond when two of his apostles desired positions of prominence? He told them: “This sitting down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:23) If Jesus were really God, would that not have been a lie? Instead, by deferring to the One with greater authority, Jesus set a beautiful example in modesty—and he showed that he was not equal to God.
BELIEF: Jesus was more than simply a good man.
Jesus plainly stated that he was more than a good man. He said: “I am God’s Son.” (John 10:36) Of course, anyone could claim to be the Son of God. But if Jesus’ claim were false, what would that make him? Really, not a good man, but a great fraud!
The most reliable testimony came from God himself. He twice said concerning Jesus: “This is my Son.” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5) Just think: The Scriptures report only a few occasions when God’s own voice was heard on earth—yet on two of them he affirmed Jesus as his Son! This is by far the best proof that Jesus was who he said he was.
Has this article uncovered any facts about Jesus that you did not previously know? If so, why not examine the inspired Gospels further? Such study can be both enjoyable and rewarding. After all, Jesus himself said that learning the truth about him and his Father “means everlasting life.”—John 17:3.
b Matthew reports that the foreigners “opened their treasures” and presented Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Interestingly, those expensive gifts may have come at just the right time, since Jesus’ family—evidently of little means—were soon forced to flee as refugees.—Matthew 2:11-15.
d This notion, asserted by Jerome about 383 C.E., is popular among those who believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. Jerome later expressed misgivings about his theory, but in the minds of many—and in the official position of the Catholic Church—the thought persists.
e For a full discussion of the Trinity doctrine, see the brochure Should You Believe in the Trinity? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Additional Facts That May Surprise You
What was Jesus like as a person? Was he so austere, so cold and aloof, that he could not relate to common people? Some would answer yes. Perhaps that is why they are surprised to learn that Jesus . . .
• attended joyous social events.—John 2:1-11.
• gave commendation.—Mark 14:6-9.
• enjoyed the company of children.—Mark 10:13, 14.
• wept openly.—John 11:35.
• felt compassion.—Mark 1:40, 41.