Copyright Ian Ellis-Jones 2007 - All Rights Reserved.
- 1.WHAT DID JESUS REALLY SAY? by Ian Ellis-Jones Honorary Minister, Sydney Unitarian Church PRECIS OF AN ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE SYDNEY UNITARIAN CHURCHON SUNDAY, 6 MAY 2007Now, despite what they told you in Sunday School, assuming for the moment thatyou went to Sunday School, or in Scripture classes at school, the true Biblicalposition in relation to Jesus is, I believe, as follows:- 1. Jesus was not, and could not have been, the Messiah. 2. Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah. 3. Even if Jesus were the Messiah, that does not make him God. 4. Jesus did not claim to be God or equal to God. 5. The most that can be claimed from the Bible is that Jesus was the Son of God, but not the Supreme or Almighty God. 6. Even if Jesus did call himself the Son of God, and that is by no means clear, that is a purely human title and not a reference to a divine figure. 7. The title most used by Jesus to describe himself was Son of Man, which does not imply that Jesus was claiming to be God.1.Jesus was not, and could not have been, the Messiah.The Jews never expected that any other than a being distinct from and inferior toGod was to be their Messiah. In other words, the Messiah will be truly human inorigin and in no sense divine. Further, any talk of the Messiah being the son ofGod is totally out-of-the-question and unbiblical: see eg Dt 18:15; Jn 1:45. The
2. kingdom of the Jewish Messiah is of this world, whereas Jesus asserted thathis kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36).The Jewish scriptures make it perfectly clear that the Messiah will be a mereman, born naturally to a husband and wife (cf Jesus supposed supernaturalvirgin birth: Mt 1:23; Is 7:14 [the latter a reference, not to the Messiahs birth,but that of King Hezekiah, being directed at King Ahaz]). Sure, a remarkable andvery wise teacher and leader, but a mere man, and certainly not a god or demi-god or someone who was supposedly fully god and fully man at the same time.(The idea that God could become man, or that man could become God is stillunthinkable to Jews. Could God become man? God can do anything, except actin a self-contradictory manner, which would be the case were God to becomenon-corporeal.)According to the Jewish scriptures this Messiah will bring complete spiritual andphysical redemption to the Jewish people, will build the Third Temple (Ez 37:26-28; cf Jesus lived while the temple was still standing), gather all Jews back toIsrael (Is 43:5-6), usher in a new era of world peace and moral perfection, thusbringing to an end all hatred, oppression, evil, suffering and disease ("Nationshall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore": Is2:4), and spread universal knowledge and love of the God of Israel. Ultimately,this Messiah will supposedly unite all humanity as one ("God will be King over allthe world - on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One": Zech 14:9).Jesus failed to fulfil any of these things whilst he was with us. That is the reasonthe Jews believe the Messiah is yet to come. It is also the reason the earlyChristians invented the doctrine of the Second Coming in order to give Jesus asecond chance to get it right!2. Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah. 3. True, there are New Testament verses such as Mt 16: 16 and 17 (wherein SimonPeter says, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, to which Jesusreplies, Blessed art thou, etc), and Mk 14: 61 and 62 (wherein Jesussupposedly admits at his trial that he is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed)which can be read as support for the view that Jesus did claim to be the Messiah.However, as regards the verses in Mt 16, in Marks version of the same incident(the earliest!) Jesus doesnt actually endorse what Peter says. Secondly, asregards Jesus supposed admission in Mark 14 that he is the Christ there isagain a variant reading; Matthew and Luke portray Jesus not as explicitlyadmitting the charge. In Acts 2:36 there is the suggestion that God appointedJesus as Messiah only after the crucifixion. In short, the matter is by no meansfrom doubt.3.Even if Jesus were the Messiah, that does not make him God.Irrespective of whether or not Jesus believed he was the Messiah, even if hewere the Messiah that does not mean he was God. As Ive already said, any talkof the Messiah as being God or even the son of God is totally unacceptable.4.Jesus did not claim to be God or equal to God.Jesus never said that he himself was God. Indeed, he virtually denied that hewas God, when he exclaimed, Why callest thou me Good? There is none goodbut one, that is God (Mt 19:17; see also Mk 10:18.)Jesus purported utterance, I and my Father are one (Jn 10:30), must be seenin its total context, for Jesus spoke of the Father, who sent him, as God, and asthe only God: see eg Jn 17:3 (This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, theonly true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent). Jesus was not claimingto be God in any unique sense. He was simply saying, I am one with God inaffection and design. As for his reported utterance, no one comes to the fatherexcept by me (Jn 14:6), my view is the same as that of the great Methodistpreacher Dr Leslie Weatherhead, which is also that of the Jesus Seminar I 4. dont believe that Jesus ever said that. If he did, he was referring to his way oflife, his teaching, nothing more than that. Strangely, there appear to be a sizablenumber of Christians who, when reading this verse, interpret it mean that Jesusis God and that no one can get to heaven except if they worship Jesus andaccept him as their Saviour and Lord. The popular perception that this verseclaims that Jesus requires our worship in order for us to receive salvation is notthe intended meaning of this verse.5.The most that can be claimed from the Bible is that Jesus was theSon of God, but not the Supreme or Almighty God.Now, the Jews - except in two instances that I will now explain - never opposedJesus on the ground that he purportedly pretended to be God or equal with God.In the two instances in question, when charged, in the one case, with makinghimself God, and in the other, with making himself equal with God, Jesuspositively denied the charges. In reply to the charge of assuming to be equalwith God (My Father worketh hitherto, and I work: Jn 5:17), Jesus saysimmediately, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Fatherdo (Jn 5:19); and directly after, I can of mine own self do nothing (Jn 5:30). Healso said, My father is greater than all (Jn 10:29). Is not the father, then,greater than the son? Jesus also affirmed, in another connection, and withoutthe least qualification, My Father is greater than I (Jn 14:28). Jesus positivelydenied himself to be the author of his miraculous works, but referred them to theFather, or the holy spirit of God: The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth theworks (Jn 14:10). If I cast out devils by the spirit of God (Mt 12:28). Jesusdistinctly stated that the miraculous works bore witness, not to his own power,but that the Father had sent him: see Jn 5:36.In answer to the charge of making himself God (I and my Father are one: Jn10:30), the Jews did indeed infer that Jesus was supposedly claiming to be God(see Jn 10:31), but Jesus quickly rephrased his claim with the term "Gods son", 5. appealing to the Jews in substance thus: Your own Scriptures call Moses a god,and your magistrates gods; I am surely not inferior to them, yet I did not callmyself God, but only the Son of God. See Jn 10:34-36.In other words, Jesus, after having said, I and my Father are one, gave hisdisciples distinctly to understand that he did not mean one substance, equal inpower and glory, but one only in affection and design, as clearly appears fromthe prayer he offers to his Father in their behalf --that they all may be one; asthou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us (Jn 17:21).Jesus was saying, The father is in me, and I am in the father, which is awonderfully panentheistic view of God. (Similarly, Jesus is also reported to havesaid, I am in my Father: and you in me, and I in you (Jn 14;20).)6.Even if Jesus did call himself the Son of God, and that is by nomeans clear, that is a purely human title and not a reference to a divinefigure.The title, Son of God, is a purely human title. In Jewish tradition the title did notmean a divine figure: see eg Ps 2: 7: You are my son, today I have begottenyou. The king (eg Solomon) is Gods first-born (see Ps 89:27). Angels,Israelites in general, righteous people, and (in the New Testament) Christianscan all be spoken of as sons of God, and can address God as Father.Is Jesus Gods only begotten son (cf Jn 3:16)? If you think that, you havecarnalized a myth. The news, according to the Ancient Wisdom, is that we are allbegotten of the Only One.There is Only One, and everybody is the onlybegotten son. The verse encapsulates an important metaphysical truth: onesonly begotten son refers to a creative and saving idea, thought or desire, thefather being mind, thinker or consciousness, creatively expressed. Realizationof ones desire is ones saviour.Anyway, did Jesus call himself the Son of God? Evangelical Christians rely uponverses such as Mk 13:32 (where Jesus uses the words, But of that day and that 6. hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son,but the Father) and Mt 11:27 (All things are delivered unto me of my Father:and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father , etc), but commentators pointout that both of those verses have question marks against them and are probablylater interpolations and not the actual words of Jesus. Further, there is nowherewhere the title Son of God must be read as implying that Jesus was in someway equal with God. In Marks gospel (the earliest), the title Son of God ispurely a human title.7.The title most used by Jesus (indeed over 60 times) to describehimself was Son of Man, which does not imply that Jesus was claimingto be GodThat