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If Jesus Wasn’t God, Was He Necessarily Either a Calloused Liar or a Raving Lunatic?

This is my my last of three blasts-from-the-pasts dealing with fundamentalist, or conservative evangelical, forms of Christianity, this time addressing the claims often made (first by C.S. Lewis, who was decidedly *NOT* a fundamentalist) that since Jesus called himself God, he either was a bald-faced liar, a raving lunatic, or the Lord of the universe.  No other option.  Or … is there?

 

QUESTION:

Do you think Jesus was a great moral teacher?  If you think this is the case would you mind blogging about it? Fundamentalist are using C.S Lewis approach in this matter. Apparently they are happier if people call Jesus a lunatic vs. a great moral teacher.

 

RESPONSE:

In my last post I indicated what I think about Jesus as a great moral teacher: yes he was one, but completely and irretrievably in an apocalyptic context that we no longer share with him. In a future post I may deal with the question of whether it is possible to transplant ethical teachings of one context into a completely different one, without remainder.

In this post I want to take up the question about C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a great scholar of 17th century English and obviously a popular author of children’s books and Christian apologetics. He was certainly no fundamentalist himself, although fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals today continue to adore him and his work. I did too, for many years. I read virtually everything he wrote, in many cases (space trilogy; Narnia; Mere Christianity; Great Divorce, and others) multiple times. I was completely bewildered and puzzled when, at Princeton Theological Seminary, my philosophy professor dismissed Lewis as a complete amateur. But now I understand. When it comes to philosophy and theology, he really was an amateur. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t smart and extraordinarily clever. But he was not a master of every field he wrote in.

This post is not about his philosophical abilities in general, however, but about one of his most commonly adduced claims. Since Jesus called himself God, then he was either telling the truth or not. If he was not telling the truth, he either knew he was not telling it or not. And so there are only three choices. Jesus either was a Liar, a Lunatic, or the Lord. (A liar if he was not telling the truth and knew it; a lunatic if he was not telling the truth but thought he was; and the Lord if he was telling the truth.) Moreover, given Jesus’ great ethical teachings, it is completely unreasonable to think that he could have lied about the most important facet of his proclamation, his own identity; and given the tenor of his life as we have it recorded in our early Gospels, he was nothing like a lunatic, but was exceedingly clear and level-headed and thoroughly sane. The only logical and sensible conclusion then is that he was who he said he was. Jesus really was God. He must have been. There is no other choice.

When I was a young evangelical this view seemed so logical to me, so clear, so certain.  There was no way around it!  It was only when I got an education that I realized why it was thoroughly problematic.

The problem is that …

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The problem is that in addition to not being a philosopher or theologian by training, Lewis also was not a biblical scholar.   And any biblical scholar on the planet who is not a fundamentalist or conservative evangelical will tell you that the problem with this “proof” is its major premise – namely, that (“since”) Jesus “called himself God.”

The problem is that the only Gospel of the New Testament where Jesus makes divine claims about himself is the Gospel of John.   In the three, earlier Gospels you do not find Jesus saying things like “I and the Father are One,” or “Before Abraham was, I am,” or “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”   These sayings are found only in the Fourth Gospel, as are all the other “I am” sayings, in which Jesus identifies himself as the one who has come from heaven to earth for the salvation of all who believe in him.

One needs to ask why Matthew, Mark, and Luke never portray Jesus as calling himself God, or equal with God, or one with God.   They certainly portray Jesus teaching a lot – for example, about God, and about the coming kingdom of God, and the apocalyptic crisis that is soon to appear, and what people must do in preparation for it to avoid the coming destruction.  But he doesn’t ever teach about his divine identity in these Gospels.  But how can that be?  If Jesus really was God, and if he knew he was God, or if, at least, the Gospel writers believed that he knew (or thought) he was God – wouldn’t they say something about it?  Did they just forget that part?   Surely it would be THE SINGLE most important thing to say and know about Jesus.   How could they possibly leave it out?

The most common way that scholars have explained this almost inexplicable omission in the Synoptic
Gospels is simply that their authors did not think of Jesus as a divine being who was equal with God and pre-existed his birth, who became incarnate as the God-Man.   They had different understandings of who Jesus was, for example, that he became the Son of God when God adopted him at his baptism (possibly the view of Mark) or that he became the Son of God when he was born of a virgin (which is the moment when he came into existence, as in the Gospel of Luke).

If this view is correct – I agree with it completely – then the earliest Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – did not understand Jesus to be a divine being who pre-existed his birth and was equal with God from eternity past.  Nor did the sources for these three Gospels (Q, M, L) understand Jesus this way.  Nor did the oral traditions lying behind these sources understand Jesus this way.   This way of understanding Jesus is only on our latest Gospel, written some 60 years after Jesus’ death.  It was a view that almost certainly developed within the Johannine community (this, again, is the majority view among scholars who are not fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals).   And the ultimate pay off is that this view of the Fourth Gospel is not the view of the historical Jesus himself.  It is a later view put on his lips by the author of John or his sources.

And so there is an easy response to the false conclusion that because Jesus called himself God, he *must* be a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.  The response is that the premise is false.  The idea that Jesus called himself God is not historical.  It is a Legend.   And so the choices are Liar, Lunatic, Lord, or Legend.   Not that Jesus himself was a legend.  Far from it!  But the idea that he called himself God is a legend.[\private]


How Does A Book Actually Get Published?
Was Jesus A Great Moral Teacher? A Blast From the Past

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  January 22, 2019

    But you might also say he was a legend in the modern colloquial way we call great people legends.

  2. Avatar
    mikezamjara  January 22, 2019

    There is one thing that I have been wondering is the abscence of the tetragramaton in the new testament. In John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am” they do not use the tetragrammaton YWHW to say “I am” they use in greek “prin abraam genesthai ego eimi”. Was the tetragrammaton still in use in the time of the first christian writings? If so, why didn’t they use it even in greek? The phrase “ego eimi” is used in other places as a term for “god”? . It seems to me that in that verse Jesus was only saying that he existed before Abraham but not necesarily that He is god. I mean, there seems no conection to the name of god here.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      A Greek author would not use the Tetragrammaton itself because it is Hebrew.

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      • Avatar
        mikezamjara  January 23, 2019

        but my doubt is: Did the words “ego eimi” were used as “god” anywhere else? If not, the claim that he was callling himself god in that verse would vanish, wouldn’t it?. That would mean he is only saying something like “I always existed”, not that he is yawheh.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          It’s all based on God’s name in his discussion with Moses in Exodus 3, in the Greek translation widely read by Jews at the time.

          • Avatar
            mikezamjara  January 26, 2019

            ooh yeah, the septuagint says that, Thank you Dr Ehrman.

  3. Avatar
    Anton  January 22, 2019

    But Jesus could foresee the future which surely makes him God. For example, the 3 denials of peter at the crucification or the destruction of the temple.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      But that would mean that anyone who successfully predicts the future would be God. I don’t think anyone imagines, for example, that the prophets of the Old Testament were God.

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      • Avatar
        godspell  January 24, 2019

        Or The Amazing Criswell.

        The implication of Jesus’ foreknowledge in the earlier gospels is that God has shared this information with him. He ascribes all his miraculous deeds to faith in God, and states (most notably in Mark) that anyone with the same faith as him could also work wonders.

        The disciples do perform miracles in Luke and in Acts–written by the same author. But I don’t believe that happens in John. Which would make sense if John was saying that the miracles proved Jesus’ divinity. John the Baptist does show miraculous foreknowledge in knowing Jesus is the one whose coming he has foretold, the Lamb of God, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (and doesn’t need to be baptized by John, since he is not a man).

        Ultimately, John’s view won out. Jesus was the one with the magic hands, and the disciples just magician’s assistants.

    • Avatar
      fishician  January 23, 2019

      It’s easy to put accurate predictions in the mouth of Jesus when you are writing after those events took place. And his biggest prediction that the end of the age was at hand, during their lifetime, did not come to pass!

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  4. Avatar
    ksgm34  January 22, 2019

    On what basis do conservative Christian scholars assert that Jesus did in fact claim to be God and that the gospel of John is accurate in this respect? Are they using a completely different model for identifying which sayings of Jesus as reported in the gospels are authentic?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      They see hints of it in the Synoptics as well; but the passages are all disputed, in terms of interpretation, and he never ever makes the claims for himself there that he does in John.

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      • Avatar
        ksgm34  January 23, 2019

        So they see those claims in John as historically accurate because of the hints they see in the synoptics? Is there a decent argument to be made that Jesus could have said the things John has him saying, just that you don’t on balance think he did, or is it purely a case of people’s pre-existing theological beliefs leading to this conclusion?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          No, not quite. They see the claims in John as historically accurate on their own account (they think John is accurate). But they find supporting evidence int he fact, as they see it, that such claims are alluded to in the Synoptics as well.

  5. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  January 22, 2019

    I have read 5 of your books (thus far) and I understand what you maintain about Jesus as God in the Synoptics but I nonetheless have a related question: Do fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals make any claims that, in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus calls himself or implies that he is God? Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      Absolutely! They claim that his miracles and teh fact he forgives sins, etc. shows that he must have been God. (It doesn’t work, in my opinion, since lots of other people do miracles and forgive sins; but that’s the argument)

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  6. Avatar
    Silver  January 22, 2019

    An off-post question if I may, please.
    Do you think that the time scale of Luke 24 (which includes the Emmaus couple’s encounter with Jesus, their return to Jerusalem to tell the disciples and the subsequent interaction with Jesus) indicates that this all happened on the day of the resurrection? If that is the case this would appear to suggest that Jesus ascended on that day rather than after 40 days. A complicating factor surrounding this issue is that both ascension accounts (Luke 24 and Acts 1) were written by the same author.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      Absolutely. Look at how every paragraph in the sequence begins. It’s all on the same day.

    • Robert
      Robert  January 23, 2019

      Silver: “If that is the case this would appear to suggest that Jesus ascended on that day rather than after 40 days. A complicating factor surrounding this issue is that both ascension accounts (Luke 24 and Acts 1) were written by the same author.”

      Bart resolves this apparent contradiction by seeing Lk 24,51 as a later scribal addition, ie, not part of Luke’s original gospel. See here:

      https://ehrmanblog.org/does-luke-flat-out-contradict-himself/

      • Avatar
        Silver  January 25, 2019

        Thanks, Robert, for directing me to this.

  7. Avatar
    Eric  January 22, 2019

    Ah yes, the “Trilemma”.

    Obviously the Quadlemma is the best response (adding Legend).

    But Lunatic is not discounted, either. Not all persons with delusions are stark raving madmen.

    A follower of David Koresh, or Jim Jones, or even Charlie Manson, had things played out in a less “connected” time, could very well write a biography of one of these men that would make them seem rational, etc.

    I would say these three were all “Lunatics” in a sense.

    5
  8. epicurus
    epicurus  January 22, 2019

    I think arguments like this 3L argument as well as how do you explain the empty tomb speak to a previous culture where most people still believed everything in the Bible, they just need a little nudge to believe the miracles. I’ve read the arguments come from 19th century to counter “liberals” who were having trouble with miracles but pretty much believed everything else in the Bible was accurate.

    • Avatar
      godspell  January 24, 2019

      If there was an empty tomb, it wouldn’t be hard to explain at all, so I don’t think the liberals were convinced. (They were, however, right in believing that there were real events and people described in the gospels).

      Circular reasoning is impossible to defeat (look at Richard Carrier), but that doesn’t make it convincing to anyone standing outside the circle.

  9. Avatar
    Hon Wai  January 22, 2019

    According this monograph of the Society for New Testament Studies (Cambridge), with endorsement by Simon Gathercole and Richard Bauckham, the historical Jesus claimed to be God:
    https://www.amazon.com/Christology-Society-Testament-Studies-Monograph/dp/1107199263
    According to Andrew Loke, “the earliest Christians regarded Jesus as divine because a sizeable group of them perceived that Jesus claimed and showed himself to be divine”.
    Suppose, for sake of argument, the historical Jesus did claim to be divine “in some sense” (the qualifier as used in your book “How Jesus became God”), would this rescue Lewis’ trilemma and lead to the conclusion that Jesus is God?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      Yes, that’s right. That is absolutely the view of most conservative evangelicals (including Gathercole and Bauckham).

  10. Avatar
    Marko Anastasijevic  January 22, 2019

    It sounds surprising to hear that we don’t have claims for Jesus’ divinity outside the gospel of John.

    Mark
    Seems that the very beginning of Mark, in 1:3, refers to Isaiah 40:3-5. It’s not a problem to say that Isaiah text doesn’t refer to Jesus, however, the argument is that the author of Mark’s gospel does refer to Isaiah.

    In Mark 2:3-10 Jesus forgives sins, something that only God can do. Others also accused him for blasphemy. Isn’t this a direct confirmation of his divine claim? Moreover, Jesus heals paralytic. We assume that all of them knew what Psalm 103:2-3 says about these two deeds.
    Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), he controls winds and waves (Mark 4). If we go back to Psalm 107:25-30, we can read that this is again something that God could only do.
    Also, what about Mark 14:62? He clearly confirms he is the son of God and refers to Daniel 7:13-14.

    Also, what about epistles? Philippians 2:6 for example, or Colossians 2:9 or 1. Timothy 3:16.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      Mark 1:3 never refers to Christ as God; and with respect to Mark 2, the priests in the temple also declared “your sins are forgiven,” but none of them was thought of as God. And there were plenty of people who did amazing miracles — even in the Old Testament — and none of them was thought of, as a result, as God.

      12
      • Avatar
        Marko Anastasijevic  January 23, 2019

        Don’t think I agree, but nevertheless, that can only prove that he didn’t claim to be God, but he did claim to be divine and son of the God.
        Back to the question – does a sane person make such claims?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          Millions of sane people have claimed to be children of God! But if you’re thinking that he claimed to pre-exist and to have created the world (which he never claims in the Synoptics), yes, that would be quite different. But the other, far more important, point, is that there is a difference — a massive difference — between what the Gospels *say* Jesus said and what the historical Jesus *actually* said. I don’t think for a second that the historical Jesus claimed to be divine, in either the Johannine or Synoptic sense.

          1
  11. Avatar
    fishician  January 22, 2019

    People read Jesus’ divinity into the Synoptic Gospels, but I don’t see it in my reading. Back to Jesus being a “moral” teacher, some take exception to certain things he said, or did not say, like he never condemned slavery. But Jesus believed the kingdom of God was at hand, and all that evil would be set right, very soon. In that context, Jesus was teaching the right thing: get yourself ready for the kingdom; don’t worry about long-term earthly concerns like family, slavery, social injustice, etc. The only problem is that he was wrong; God did not set everything right and so evils like slavery continued, often with the Bible being used to justify it!

    4
    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      Yup, it’s a problem….

      5
      • tompicard
        tompicard  January 23, 2019

        I think you misunderstand the prophetic call

        Jonah said that Ninevah would be destroyed in 40 days! Of course that was wrong.

        Jesus said the Kingdom of God was near! Likewise that prediction was inaccurate

        Both prophets expected or were told by God to ‘predict’ something that did not happen
        Why didn’t the above predictions occur ????

        Please review Ezekiel 33:13

        If [God] tell[s] the righteous man that he will surely live, but he then trusts in his righteousness and commits iniquity, then none of his righteous works will be remembered; he will die because of the iniquity he has committed. So when I tell the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and he turns from his sin and does what is just and right; if he restores a pledge, makes restitution for what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without practicing iniquity—he will surely live; he will not die.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          My point is that plenty of prophets in the OT make accurate predictions of what will happen. That doesn’t make them God.

          2
  12. Avatar
    Scorpiored48  January 22, 2019

    I know this is off topic but was there a specific reason why the Infancy Gospels were not ultimately included in the accepted Biblical canon?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      They were recognized as being written much later and not widely used in teh churches. And legendary in character.

      • Avatar
        Scorpiored48  January 23, 2019

        I thought perhaps it was because it showed a more vicious vindictive and abrasive portrayal of Jesus as God than the church wanted to except as orthodox.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          As odd as it might seem, there’s no evidence that ancient readers saw these texts as presenting a vindictive and abrasive view of Jesus! They are certainly read that way frequently now, but they don’t have to be, and apparently weren’t!

      • Avatar
        dankoh  January 23, 2019

        Also, Irenaeus wanted only four canonical gospels because he attributed mystic significance to ‘4’.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          I’d say that he latched onto the significance of 4 only after he already thought there were 4 Gospels; that isn’t why he restricted their number to 4.

  13. Avatar
    ddorner  January 22, 2019

    I’ve never quite worked out why Jesus would have to be a lunatic in order to believe he was God. It seems like that’s only slightly more extreme than Lewis believing Jesus is God. Which he does. So why would Jesus be a lunatic and not Lewis?

    If someone can believe that a man is God and be an otherwise sane religious person. Then why is the person who believes he himself is God automatically bonkers?

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      I guess the qeustion is: what would you think of C.S. Lewis himself if he seriously claimed that he, personally, was God?

      1
      • Avatar
        ddorner  January 23, 2019

        Right, except Lewis is living in a post scientific, post enlightenment era. Would it really be comparable to an ancient person thinking they were God? I don’t disagree that Jesus probably never said he was God. Just with Lewis’ argument.

        Weren’t there other ancient people who claimed to be God/Gods or divine? And if so, would they also be classified as lunatics based on Lewis’ logic?

      • Avatar
        godspell  January 24, 2019

        Elwin Ransom, hero of Lewis’ Space Trilogy, is a philologist, like Lewis himself, clearly modeled after his creator, sharing his tastes and opinons in basically all respects. And in the last book, he claims to be the Pendragon, Arthur returned from Avalon.

        It’s the next best thing. 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          Maybe my favorite of Lewis’s works (the Space Trilogy), even though I find That Hideous Strength to be the weakest, a rather obvious resistance to the idea that the world may not be ruled by “absolutes” and “objectivity” a view anathema to many Oxbridge Enlightened Humanists at the time.

          • Avatar
            godspell  January 25, 2019

            I think Ransom’s character suffers from him becoming a sort of Celtic Christian Demigod. In the first two, he’s a very flawed fallible likable fellow, showing great courage and compassion, but also weakness and uncertainty. Admirable, but not idealized.

            And in the last book, he’s almost unrecognizible, a tower of determination and strength (hideous or otherwise), noble beyond belief, who has suddenly become the fulfillment of a prophecy that is not even remotely in The Bible–though for a Briton of Lewis’ bent, as I said–almost as good.

            This deep certainty in what is right works for Aslan (who is, after all, Christ in animal form–tempted to call him a Blonde Beast), but Ransom is Lewis’ fictional surrogate, and it’s a bit much–he’s whistling in the dark. Well, the early 1940’s, who wasn’t?

            Anyway, haven’t read any of them in eons. Say what you will, they stick with you. My personal favorite is still Screwtape, though. Whatever that may say about me. 😉

            When I say paganism never really died, this is part of what I mean. Lewis and Tolkien were as devoutly Christian as anyone could be–and just as devoutly pagan. And looking for some way to make the two passions connect.

            1
  14. Avatar
    Nichrob  January 22, 2019

    As to your point: “In a future post I may deal with the question of whether it is possible to transplant ethical teachings of one context into a completely different one, without remainder.”

    Please do….!!! would love to hear your thoughts on that specific issue.

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  15. Avatar
    flcombs  January 22, 2019

    And it would also seem, why couldn’t Jesus have just been WRONG? Even if he did say something, he could be honest, sane and just be wrong, especially if a lot of claims of his actions are legendary. These days, especially in politics, we frequently hear people called “liars” that are wrong but not deliberately so.

    Lunatic: I’ve always been interested in that and definition and there are people on the blog that could professionally address it I think. So if someone is hearing voices that are telling them to do things, are they “crazy” or is that god? It’s always interesting how from the very religious side you are supposed to pray and “communicate” with god and even hear claims of hearing his voice. Yet we have people hearing voices and obeying in killing people and we put them away. So around here it appears very subjective: If you hear voices that say what Christians tell you to believe, it’s GOD! If you hear voices telling you to do things against what they say, you are crazy or it’s the devil. If you hear voices telling you “don’t lust after that woman”, it’s god stopping you from sin. If you hear a voice saying “go for it: I gave you your body to enjoy and live life” they say it’s the devil or self wishes. I know which god I’d rather have 🙂 but I’m just saying it seems one person’s “lunatic” is another’s prophet. Not judging anyone’s beliefs, but asking how is anyone really objectively deciding the difference, if at all?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      I’d say no. This can’t be an “objective” evaluation — it depends on who is making it.

      1
    • Avatar
      Eric  January 23, 2019

      Liar, Lunatic, Lord, legend or deLuded.

      Deluded (sorry, de-Luded) is not the same as lunacy, if the test for lunacy is a lack of rational-sounding, calm discourse (as I understand it, this is the evidence against “lunatic” in the “trilemma”).

    • Avatar
      AstaKask  January 23, 2019

      Deuteronomy 18:20-22 gives success as the only criterion. If the prophecy comes true, the character was a true prophet. If not, then the character was a false prophet. Amusingly, this means that Jesus was a false prophet (Mark 16:28).

    • Avatar
      godspell  January 25, 2019

      I think Bernard Shaw gets the last word on that–or the best, anyway.

      “For us to set up our condition as a standard of sanity, and declare Joan mad because she never condescended to it, is to prove that we are not only lost but irredeemable. Let us then once for all drop all nonsense about Joan being cracked, and accept her as at least as sane as Florence Nightingale, who also combined a very simple iconography of religious belief with a mind so exceptionally powerful that it kept her in continual trouble with the medical and military panjandrums of her time.”

      Or, in the play itself–

      JOAN. I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.

      ROBERT. They come from your imagination.

      JOAN. Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us.

      It’s not where someone says they got their ideas that matters. It’s the ideas themselves. It’s for us to decide if they are sound or unsound. Jesus himself said not to trust everyone who says God told him this or that. Jesus knew very well that there are plenty of charlatans and madmen posing as prophets. He just didn’t think he was one of them. Neither do I. But he was wrong on many points, for all that.

      It was Wittgenstein who said if a lion could talk to us, we wouldn’t understand him. If God talked to us….?

  16. Avatar
    Silver  January 22, 2019

    Since the ‘First Century Mark’ fiasco came to light in May 2018, have the reputations of some of the leading players been reinstated or is the sorry saga still rumbling on?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      It’s all *pretty* much resolved. At the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in November there will be a panel discussion of the entire saga and its implications for scholarly integrity. I’ll be one of the people on teh panel delivering a paper.

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      • NulliusInVerba
        NulliusInVerba  January 23, 2019

        Hopefully we will see a summary of your paper or maybe even of the panel itself on this blog!

        2
      • Lev
        Lev  January 24, 2019

        Would you consider blogging about this, please? I for one would be very interested in hearing more about this.

        1
        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          Yup, at the time I’ll certainly think hard about it!

          2
          • NulliusInVerba
            NulliusInVerba  January 25, 2019

            Do you know yet if there will be a YouTube or similar online video?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 27, 2019

            Don’t know!

  17. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 22, 2019

    Do you have a favorite book in the New Testament?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      Probably Mark.

      4
      • Rick
        Rick  January 23, 2019

        That would seem to be a historians answer….. do you have a literary favorite?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          Yup. Mark!

          1
          • Avatar
            Loring  January 29, 2019

            I definitely understand your answer! In the mid-1980s, I took a great class at North Park Theo. Seminary with Prof. Jay Phelan on the Gospel of Mark. We read Rhoads & Michies’s “Mark as Story.” Having previously studied at a literalist fundamentalist seminary, this was my first exposure to approaching the Bible as literature. As an ex-fundamentalist, I loved it! It was a whole new world. It was amazing to see the structures and how they functioned as elements in the story (without obsessing over whether it “really happened”). While serving as a Covenant minister after North Park, I taught a Bible study using my class notes and a paper I had written for class. I’m an atheist now, but I still appreciate the intricate literary structure of Mark as a story.

      • Avatar
        flcombs  January 25, 2019

        If it were Old Testament, I would have picked “Song of Solomon”. It’s fun to read it out loud in church when asked to read the Bible and talk about how inspiring it is to you. 🙂

        • Bart
          Bart  January 27, 2019

          Ha! It’s even more explicit in the original!

          • Avatar
            hankgillette  February 2, 2019

            Has anyone made a more explicit translation?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 3, 2019

            I imagine so! But I don’t recall seeing one.

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    godspell  January 22, 2019

    The funniest thing about all this is fundamentalists using C.S. Lewis at all, since he was decidedly not a fundamentalist, held many unconventional religious opinions, had a strange attraction to pagan mythology (like his Catholic colleague and friend, J.R.R. Tolkien) and were he alive today, those using him now might not even consider him a real Christian. Well, as we have learned, you can claim anything about anyone’s beliefs, once they’re dead. Might happen to you someday, Bart. 😉

    Reading “Out of the Silent Planet” and “Perelandra” as a boy, I was struck by his insistence that even though the books are about intelligent life on other planets in the solar system, life anywhere else in the cosmos is categorically ruled out, because somehow that would diminish God’s creation–I think this is because Lewis was afraid that a universe full of intelligent life would dilute the significance of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Would he then have needed to appear to untold numbers of alien races, or taken an alien form himself? Or were there many others like Jesus, throughout the galaxy? Or were only humans in need of saving?

    (Michael Bishop partly answered this question decades later, with his “The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis” where a sentient mantid who is also and equally The Christ comes to earth, after her many siblings had been martyred on her home planet. You can perceive Lewis’s influence, while recognizing he would not have been amused.)

    Lewis, like all converts, was fervent in his beliefs. This often made him rigid, which went against his nature as a writer, I think. He’s trying to deal with conflicted feelings in his fiction, which makes it both moving and fascinating, but also sometimes a bit incoherent, intellectually speaking. He’s preaching when he should be just telling the story and letting us make up our own minds what it means.

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      godspell  January 22, 2019

      If the fundamentalists want to take him at his word, don’t they also have to accept that somewhere there’s a giant talking lion who is just as much The Christ as Jesus? That there are a Venusian Adam and Eve who did not give in to temptation? That Arthur Pendragon is returning before Jesus? That Merlin’s sorcery came from neither God nor Satan, but rather some neutral power, and the victory of good may depend on his choosing our side? And that there is in fact no Satan, just a lot of devilish bureaucrats rather resembling Members of Parliament, or possibly Oxford Dons, who feast on human souls and sometimes each other, while debating the finer points of temptation?

      I’m genuinely curious!

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    Nabokov  January 22, 2019

    Hi Bart,
    thanks for the interesting article. I do think, however, that Jesus is calling himself God in the Synoptic Gospels. Here’s an example: In Matthew 21,16 Jesus is quoting Psalm 8,2 and makes it very clear that he himself is YHW who, as stated in Psalm 8,2, is preparing praise out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies. Could you comment on those two passages?

    Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      If Jesus was YHWH, who was he calling Father and praying to???

      But as a direct response to your question: in Matt. 21:15-16 he is (explicitly) claiming to be the “Son of David,” not YHWH.

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        b.dub3  January 23, 2019

        Bart, thank you for all that you do…I’m somewhat confused by your arguments regarding Jesus as YHWH. As you know, the doctrine of the Trinity says the Father is God, Jesus is God and the HS is God or YHWH in three persons, but there are not three God’s (YHWH’s) but one. You seem to only link YHWH to the Father. Why not all three given the Trinity?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          In Psalm 2, we read “The LORD (= YHWH) said to my Lord, You are My Son, Today I have begotten you.” Christians used this as a reference to what hte Father said to the Son. If the speaker is the Father and he is identified as YHWH, adn the person he is speaking to is not YHWH, then they aren’t both YHWH.

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            b.dub3  January 25, 2019

            Understood, but my understanding is that Chistians believe that two persons within the Godhead (YHWH) can converse together as strange as that is.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 27, 2019

            The point is that one of them is called YHWH and he is addressing someone else called something else.

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        JohnMuellerJD  January 23, 2019

        Love reading your reply here (and reply to an earlier comment to this post re passages in Mark) pointing out the interpretive errors. I would love to see you go chapter by chapter of each synoptic Gospel and point out how common passages in a chapter are commonly misinterpreted. That’s not asking too much, is it?

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    RVBlake  January 22, 2019

    Bart, why did Jesus think that he was the Messiah?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      He thought that had been revealed to him by God.

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      • Rick
        Rick  January 23, 2019

        Professor, so assuming he thought that in the first century Jewish meaning (not the later Christian meaning), was he not then deluded?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          I don’t think God really told him that, no. But I’m an atheist, so I couldn’t think that even if I wanted to!

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            Victorsalazar  January 29, 2019

            Dr. Bart. According to the Rabbi community , in the gospels , Jesus controlled his own death . And he died before the 2 thieves , claiming he suffered all sins of all mankind. Those are some simple reasons (in order no to enter in theological issues and interpretations) that the Rabbis show me . How a man can claim to suffer from all sins if he let himself go before any more suffering? . They do no think he is a lunatic, but the product of a unreasonable legend.

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