Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Divinity of Jesus

I got an email recently that starts with this quote from The Da Vinci Code: "Until 325 AD, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet, a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless -- a mortal." The emailer goes on to say, "My encyclopedia confirms that it was not until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD that the Church established the divinity and equality of the Son in the Trinity. This seems to confirm what he says in The Da Vinci Code. Could you clarify?"

In other words, is it true that nobody believed Jesus was divine until 300 years after his death? Dan Brown says that the first century church knew Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene but covered that up along with a lot of other information because that would reveal that Jesus was only human and not divine, and they wanted people to think he was divine, even though they all knew that he wasn't. Therefore, according to The Da Vinci Code, "Any gospels that describe earthly aspects of Jesus' life had to be omitted from the Gospel -- what was included in the New Testament."

This seems bizarre to me, because the Gospels in the New Testament talk about the earthly (and earthy) aspects of Jesus' life all the time. The miracle of the Incarnation is exactly this: Jesus was born in a manger as a baby, and he was a real baby who really did go through birth in all its awful glory.

But we don't like to think of Jesus like that. We don't want him to be a helpless infant who cries and nurses and can't control his own bladder. In fact, around Christmas we'll sometimes sing a song that says, "The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes."

We've had three babies at our house, and none of them were the no-crying variety. In fact, if a baby doesn't cry at all, we usually think it's because something's wrong with them developmentally. Jesus was not a no-crying baby. He was one of those babies who cries, because that's the only kind of baby there is.

We also can guess that he was a crying baby because when he grew up he was a crying man. He wept real tears. He got hungry, and he had to eat. He got thirsty, and he had to drink. He got tired, and he had to sleep. When thorns pierced his skin, they drew real blood and caused real pain. He wasn't faking it.

It's the later non-eyewitness Gnostic accounts of Jesus' life that make Jesus look the least human. In one of them, Jesus -- as a little boy -- is playing with some clay. He makes a couple of pigeons, says some magic words and the pigeons turn into real birds and fly away. In another one, Jesus is a little kid when he gets into a fight with another little kid. Jesus is mad at him so he curses and other boy -- and the other boy dies. Jesus kills another little boy by the power of a magic curse! In another one, Jesus isn't suffering on the cross, he's laughing. In another one, after the crucifixion, Jesus comes out of the tomb, but now he's as big as Paul Bunyan. And after he comes out of the tomb, the cross comes out of the tomb, and the cross speaks. It's a talking cross!

The New Testament documents don't tell those kinds of stories. They don't present Jesus as a single man because they're covering up his humanity. They don't cover up his humanity. The New Testament presents Jesus as a single man, because he was a single man. There simply isn't a shred of evidence from any document written from within 100 years of Jesus' life to support the idea that he was married.

The Da Vinci Code says that Jesus must have been married because all Jewish men had to get married. But there were communities like the Essene community where celibacy was practiced. There were prophets like Jeremiah and John the Baptist who were single. Josephus, the first centurty historian, talks about Banus, another wilderness prophet who was single for the sake of his ministry.

Most importantly, the idea that Jesus was not regarded as divine until 300 years after he died just doesn't square with the facts. The apostle Paul, who most scholars would agree wrote within a few decades of Jesus' life, wrote these words: "For in Christ all the fullness of God lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9).

Now, for a first century Jewish man, committed to monotheism, to write those words...that's a staggering statement.

In the Gospel of Matthew, again written in the era of eyewitnesses, Jesus says to Simon Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16).

Jesus does not respond by saying, "Oh, no. I'm just a regular guy like you. Stop saying stuff like that."

Jesus says, "Blessed are you Simon Peter for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven" (Matthew 16:17).

The Gospel of John says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:1, 14).

It is a matter of historical record that many of the early followers of Jesus -- the eyewitnesses -- were martyred for their faith. For me, trying to say that they knew Jesus was only mortal and covered it up, and then they were willing to suffer and die for what they knew to be a lie...that's the biggest leap of faith of all.