When I was deciding whether or not I should be a Christian, I made sure to read about as many other religions as I could. At first it was overwhelming to compare the teachings of faiths like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism to Christianity, but then I noticed they all had one thing I could compare: a teaching about Jesus Christ.
Almost every major world religion has a teaching about the identity of Jesus. Jews say Jesus was a human teacher, Muslims say he was a prophet, and Hindus and Buddhists say Jesus was an “enlightened man.” They all say basically the same thing: Jesus was a great man, but he’s not God. If it turned out that Jesus was God, however, then even though these religions have some good teachings, I knew they couldn’t be God’s revelation. How could they if they failed to teach about the incredible moment when God became man in the person of Jesus Christ?
Isn’t it amazing that even the name Jesus Christ can cause tension and discomfort? Some people say it’s because that name reminds people of negative experiences they had at church or of violent Christian history. But the words “Christianity” or “Catholic Church” don’t cause the same anxiety. I would argue that this name stirs strong feelings in people because the name itself has power. And the name of Jesus has power because the person who bears that name is God in human flesh and has infinite power.
Why should we believe such an incredible claim? Here are three reasons:
1. Jesus believed he was God and he’s someone we can trust.
Jesus saw himself as more than a human prophet or teacher. For example, Buddha said, “Be ye lamps unto yourselves . . . hold fast to the truth as a refuge,”xxxvi whereas Jesus said, “Iam the light of the world” (John 8:12). Jesus also said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Another clue to Jesus’ divine identity is that Jesus acted like God. For example, he forgave sins, which is something that only God has the authority to do (Mark 2:5-7). In John 20:28, Jesus’ disciple Thomas addressed him as “My Lord and my God.” Jesus did not correct Thomas, because what Thomas said was true.
In the Hebrew Bible the name of God was considered so sacred it couldn’t be pronounced. Even today many Jews spell the name “God” with a hyphen (“G-d”) in order not to disrespect the name. But in John 8:58, Jesus used that sacred, unpronounceable name of God for himself.
He said that “before Abraham was, I AM,” implying that he eternally existed as God before Abraham, who lived thousands of years earlier. This act infuriated the Jewish leaders and motivated them to kill Jesus for blasphemy. But it wasn’t blasphemous for Jesus to use God’s name, because he is God.
At this point someone might say, “I’ll grant that Jesus wasn’t a liar (since he was a good teacher), and he wasn’t a lunatic (since he was a wise teacher), but maybe he was a legend. How do we know Jesus really said he was God? What if someone added that to the Bible in order to cover up a story about a merely human Jesus?”
This brings us to our next reason.
2. We can trust the New Testament documents.
There currently exist over 5,500 copies of Greek New Testament manuscripts. There are also 15,000 copies written in other languages like Latin, Coptic, and Syriac. The first complete copy of the New Testament can be dated to within 300 years of the original documents.xxxvii Now, compare this to one of the most famous examples of ancient Greek literature: Homer’s Iliad. It was written in the eighth century B.C. and, although a few fragments of the Iliad can be dated to within 500 years of Homer, the oldest complete copy was written in the tenth century A.D., or 1,800 years later!
Because there were so many copies of the New Testament in the ancient world (including thousands more that didn’t survive to the present day), no single person or group could have gathered them all up and changed the story of Jesus. Also, unlike the biographies of people like Alexander the Great or Buddha, which were written centuries after those figures died, the Bible’s descriptions of Jesus were written within a few decades of his death either by eyewitnesses or people who knew the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry.
The Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce put it bluntly: “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.”
3. The first Christians worshipped Jesus as God.
The earliest Christian writings show that they believed Jesus was the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:8-9). Jesus had the “form of God” and a name to which every knee shall bend (Phil. 2:5-11). The Bible even calls Jesus “our great God and savior” (Titus 2:13).
When a second-century Roman governor named Pliny the Younger asked Christians to worship the gods of Rome, they refused. In a letter explaining this behavior to the Roman emperor, Pliny said that Christians “were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath.”
Remember also that the first Christians were converts from Judaism. For over a thousand years the Jewish people made themselves distinct from their pagan neighbors by refusing to worship an animal or a man as God. The Jews of Jesus’ time would never have believed Jesus was God unless his miracles, including his Resurrection from the dead, proved it.
Since Jesus did prove he was God, we
can trust him when he says: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who
believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and
believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
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