Did Jesus Deny His Divinity?
A wealthy Israeli businessman, whose name is withheld to protect his identity, made perhaps the greatest archaeological discovery in history. While excavating in his Jerusalem basement in the hopes of expanding it, he unearthed two beautifully preserved papyrus documents. They date to the first century AD and are addressed to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious and political legislative court. Written in Aramaic and dated to ca. AD 34, the author is a man called the “Messiah of the children of Israel.” Apparently accused of calling himself the “Son of God,” he denies the charge, telling the Sanhedrin that anyone who is a believer can call himself a son of God. If this sounds familiar, it should. This Jewish Messiah figure could be none other than the man whom the church has come to know as Jesus Christ. Or so the story goes.
In 2006, author Michael Baigent published The Jesus Papers, in which he argues that Jesus denied that He was the physical Son of God. Claiming to have talked to an unnamed Israeli who keeps two priceless papyrus documents in a climate-controlled vault, Baigent asserts this individual uncovered the evidence that exposes the Christian faith as one built on a two-thousand year-old lie.
The reinvention of Jesus is an annual adventure into untenable theories based on paltry evidence and bad logic. Baigent's book is no exception. He first rehashes evidence he has been putting forth for years in other publications. It is only after this material that he finally gets into the evidence that will supposedly wreck the foundations of Christianity. Fortunately, this work is no more believable that the others members of the parade of bad theories Christians have come to expect every year around Christmas and Easter.
Without explicitly saying so, Baigent asks his readers to take his word that the two documents are what he claims. Never mind the fact that in 150 years of excavation, no scholar has ever found any papyrus in Jerusalem. Dry though it may be, the climate is still too wet for papyrus documents to survive from antiquity. And a random Jewish man just happens to find it buried in his basement when scholars have never found a shred of it anywhere else? Furthermore, the author cannot read Aramiac, so he has to take the man's word that these are confessions made by Jesus Himself. What is even more amazing – or insulting – is that Baigent claims that he should be believed because he has seen the documents firsthand. Of course, since he isn't an archaeologist or linguistic expert, he has no idea what the two documents really are. They could be modern forgeries or old manuscripts from centuries later that have nothing to do with Jesus. Furthermore, archaeology cannot date a document to any particular year unless the writing itself mentions specific chronological data.
From start to finish, The Jesus Papers reeks of a bad conspiracy novel. Sadly, it is just one of many recent challenges to the divinity of Jesus. From the scholarly works to popular pieces, the arguments against Jesus feature a noticeable lack of objectivity. Evidence for the theories hang on poor evidence and bad interpretation. We will look at three examples that will likely never be seen in any television documentary or referenced in any popular book or article.
There are several examples of ancient evidence that demonstrate a knowledge that Christ claimed to be divine. Setting aside the preposterous evidence that Baigent claims to have found, the evidence ably demonstrates the truthfulness of Christ's claims in the New Testament. First, the Roman historian Pliny the Younger, writing in AD 112, records that the early Christians sang hymns to Christ as if He were God. This is a difficult piece of evidence indeed, as a non-Christian writer shows awareness that Jesus was considered divine by His followers.
Second, a piece of graffiti from the 2nd-3rd centuries on the wall of a guardhouse in Rome is particularly stunning. Carved into the plaster on the wall is a crude drawing of two figures. One is a crucified man with a donkey's head, while the other is shown in a posture of worship. Under the drawing is the inscription “Alexamenos worships his God.” Since the only example of a “crucified God” in antiquity is Jesus, it is obvious that the inscription is a crude attempt to make fun of Christian beliefs.
Finally, a recently uncovered inscription in Jerusalem explicitly states that Jesus is divine. While doing some excavation work near a men's prison in the late 1990's, archaeologists uncovered an ancient church in Jerusalem dating back to the third century AD. In the ruins of a large hall that apparently contained a large table, an inscription reads, “The God-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.” Two hundred years after His death, we have proof that Christians believed Jesus to be divine.
If Jesus never claimed to be God, where did His followers get such an idea? The evidence above is fully available for evaluation by scholars, unlike Baigent's “evidence” that he insists is there, but cannot reveal.
While challenges to the teaching of Scripture can be unnerving and worrisome for a few, we can also see it as an opportunity to go back to Scripture and evaluate it in light of the evidence. The Bible is not an ancient document that early churchgoers concocted to make a quick buck or give them power over the masses. No one profited from Christianity in the first century. In modern times, the lure of power and wealth can draw some into the ministry for less than noble reasons. In ancient times, there was no reward for being a Christian. No one would say that dodging the police to practice a religion that could get a person killed is much incentive for being a believer. For many of the faithful in the first three centuries, the grand prize for being a Christian was a quick exit from this world at the hands of an executioner. In some parts of the world today, it still is.
The theory presented in The Jesus Papers is laughable. A careless historian with a track-record for attacking Christianity claims to have found secret documents written by Christ that deny His divinity. The author offers no real proof for his theory, going so far as to admit that he is not qualified to properly evaluate the evidence. The subtitle “Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History” is emblazoned in bold red letters on the cover. Given the fact that Baigent can marshal no tangible proof to expose the “fraudulent” Christian religion, this could serve as textbook case of false advertising. The only thing Baigent has successfully exposed is his own malice toward Christianity.
When discussing whether Jesus was lunatic, liar, or Lord, C.S. Lewis said that Jesus did not leave the option open for us to interpret him as merely a good moral teacher. Jesus was not a myth – that much is obvious. If Jesus was insane, He couldn't have taught a coherent set of morals. If He was a liar, it's difficult to imagine Him dying the excruciating death possible just to maintain His deception. The only remaining option is to call Him Lord and God – which is exactly what the evidence said in the first place.
When Did Christians Accept the Deity of Christ?
Did Jesus Think He Was God?