“ … you’d have to prove both Jesus as being the son of God and that he existed. Even if you think he existed (which I do) that is not proof that he was the son of God. He was probably a preacher who was voted to be the son of God by a power hungry Emperor. His message was then twisted into what Christians believe today. If you read the Gnostic scriptures, you will see Jesus portrayed as something very different than the NT, heavily edited and mistranslated version that Christians follow today.”
I’ve heard these assertions before, a few of them many years ago, although some have turned up more recently, like the ones about an emperor being in some way responsible for the view of Jesus held by Christians today. These claims have been developed over the last few decades by a number of scholars, but probably received their greatest popularity through the recent novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code.
So, It would appear that my friend is disparaging my reliance on one Book, based on his reliance on another book (or books). Interesting. Is this a faith issue?
It would seem to me that one who denies the existence of God based on the lack of empirical data, would not be so hasty to rely on truth claims that have little, if any, empirical data to back them up.
So, if I may, I’d like to address some of the claims made above.
· The claim that Christians today follow a “heavily edited mistranslated version of the New Testament.” There is no evidence whatsoever for this assertion. We have manuscripts of large portions of the New Testament that date back to the middle of the third century, within 160/175 years of the latest estimated dates for its composition. Though there are textual variations, they differ very little from our present day printed Greek texts. As a matter of fact, our modern critical Greek texts use those early manuscripts.
Although there are many modern translations, some more accurate than others, our modern English translations are quite reliable. The “heavily edited and mistranslated version” is a myth. Such an assertion would (or should) be denied by even the most skeptical scholars.
· “If you read the Gnostic scriptures, you will see Jesus portrayed as something very different than the New Testament …” I have read a few of them, including the Gospel of Thomas and I can say amen to this assertion. But I fail to see how this detracts from the truth claims of the New Testament.
Our New Testament was composed within the first century, even the latest book within 60 years of Jesus. Though there is much dispute as to precise dating, much of the material in our Gospels came from eyewitnesses.
The Gnostic scriptures were composed later, probably in the second or third centuries. The Gospel of Thomas is supposed by some to have been written around 200 which would put it more than a century later than any New Testament writings, even though some believe it may possibly contain some authentic says of Jesus.
The Gnostic scriptures were the product of a broad school of thinking which combined elements of Christianity, Judaism, Neo-Platonism and other beliefs. They are inconsistent, not only with the New Testament, but also with each other and present no historical or theological unity such as is found in the New Testament. They are also merely one segment of a great number of similar writings. I fail to see how their disagreement with the New Testament is relevant at all to the argument.
· “He (Jesus) was probably a preacher who was voted to be the son of God by a power hungry Emperor. His message was then twisted into what Christians believe today.” I’m assuming that the reference is to the Roman emperor Constantine “the Great,” who reigned from 306-337. Constantine did establish the toleration of Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 and called the Council of Nicaea in 325, which clarified some of the major doctrines of Christianity.
However, by this time the New Testament writings had been in circulation for over 250 years. Christianity had already spread throughout the Roman Empire and well beyond. Beliefs about the Person and Message of Jesus were recorded in the New Testament and in the minds of many, long before the time of Constantine. There were no changes in the message.
· I’m glad we both agree that Jesus existed. I guess that means we have some agreement in our beliefs. If we can’t accept the massive evidence of the New Testament and other writings on this matter, I don’t see how we can accept any historical evidence for the existence of any individual of ancient history.
The New Testament documents make up the earliest and largest body of evidence we have, not only for the existence of Jesus, but also for His life, teachings and work. They also are our most accurate evidence for the early church and for how His life, teachings and work were understood. We don’t need to seek later claims nor the pronouncements of emperors.
And, if this is so, then perhaps we need to examine the claims that Jesus made, as recorded in the New Testament, especially the Gospels. If we do, we will find that He was more than simply “a preacher.” He claimed to be one with God the Father and to have existed before His birth. He claimed to be the Messiah and the only way to God.
Of course, we can deny that He made these claims, even though the evidence says that He did. Or we can say He was delusional.
Or perhaps we can simply accept His claims as true. I do.