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December 29, 2015


It's not clear what significance "Such a belief would have been an exceptional departure from the Jewish faith" is supposed to have for the argument. Is it supposed to be this:

1. The disciples were Jewish.
2. Belief in the divinity of Jesus would have been an exceptional departure from the Jewish faith.
3. The disciples would likely not have adopted an exceptional departure from the Jewish faith.
4. The disciples likely would not have believed in the divinity of Jesus.

Assuming that this is what we are supposed to infer, we could add this:

5. Paul was Jewish.
6. The objector has already conceded that Paul, a Jew, believed in the divinity of Jesus.
7. If Paul was exceptionally departing from the Jewish faith in a way in which the other disciples of Jesus disagreed and Paul's exceptional departure was influential in the early Church, we should find the disciples arguing against Paul's exceptional departure.
8. If the other disciples are silent on Paul's influential exceptional departure, they likely agree with Paul's influential exceptional departure.
9. We don't find the other disciples arguing against Paul's exceptional departure.
10. The other disciples likely agreed with Paul's exceptional departure.

Belief in the divinity of Jesus would not have been the only exceptional departure from the Jewish faith adopted by the disciples of Jesus. There were many other points of exceptional departure from the Jewish faith: the belief in the sacrificial system as obsolete, the irrelevance of circumcision, a suffering Messiah with a delayed fully realized reign, etc.

What influenced the disciples of Jesus to exceptionally depart from the Jewish faith in these instances was the reality of Jesus and his teaching.

(I'm using "Jewish faith" to mean common Jewish beliefs in the 1st century, I'm not using it in the sense of "the authoritative revelation handed down to the Jews".)

I can't help but notice that if not all, then most of the 40 Problems with Christianity appeal to a standard of right and wrong that, by definition, cannot be justified outside of the standard of God's nature.

As far as this goes: [The disciples] never agreed with Paul’s concept of Jesus as being divine. Anything written in the Bible to suggest that they did is probably a result of later editing by some of Paul’s followers. Such a belief would have been an exceptional departure from the Jewish faith.

I have a few thoughts on that:
Many of the things Jesus taught would have been considered by most Jews in that day to be an "exceptional departure" from their faith. However, their "faith" in that day consisted of thousands of micro laws and regulations that enabled them to keep the law if they tried hard enough. But this was not the type of faith and beliefs that Jesus espoused.

Jesus said this in Matthew 5:17 -- “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." And then this in 5:20 -- "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus came to make clear that it wasn't keeping every little letter of the law that made you righteous, it was a heart issue. Again, this was an "exceptional departure" from the works-based Jewish religious system of that day.

Also, nearly all the disciples ended up giving their life for the cause they believed in. I can't imagine they would do this unless they fully believed that Jesus was exactly who He said He was.

Christ's disciples most certainly did believe that Jesus was divine. This is apparent is such passages as:

John 20:28 - "[the disciple] Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"
Matt 16:16 - "[the disciple] Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

The Apostle and disciple Peter confirms Pauls writings as inspired scripture 2 Peter 3:16 affirming Pauls doctrinal positions.

Three simple sentences. The first is apparently the conclusion and the following two are offered to support it.

"The disciples never agreed with Paul's concept of Jesus being divine."

Never is a strong word. Is there a similarly strong argument?

"Anything written in the Bible to suggest that they did is probably a result of later editing by some of Paul’s followers.

Probably? The reason that the challenger doesn't know for sure is because there is no evidence whatsoever for the claim. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. There isn't even a remote probability that their original writings were tampered with in this way because there's no indication that it was done. Perhaps they are referring to copy variants. That's not evidence that the text was tampered with. That's actually proof that it wasn't. It was copied so much that we have a testimony to the reliability of the text even with the known variants.

"Such a belief would have been an exceptional departure from the Jewish faith."

In what way? This is viewed as the fulfillment of Judaism, according to the normal interpretation of the Old Testament. If Judaism is interpreted to be the departure from ancient Judaism by the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day and even of Jews today, then certainly Christianity can be seen as a departure from Judaism. However, it's a mistake to think that Judaism is monolithic, even in Jesus' day. And it's not an exceptional departure, even then. There were many false messiahs even then. Jesus was exceptional because his authority was marked with the fulfillment of prophecy and performing of many signs and wonders.

All this said, there is no real support offered here for the conclusion in the first sentence.

On the positive side, the Apostles all wrote of Jesus' divinity. Paul's Apostleship was attested by signs and accepted by the other Apostles. They knew what he was teaching and condoned it at the time because it was in line with their own canonical teaching. You can draw parallels between the Gospels and Paul's writings. you can draw parallels between Paul's writings and those Apostles who also wrote letters that were preserved in the canon of Scripture.

Additionally, the Apostolic fathers recognized the writings of the Apostles as being authoritative and testified to their understanding as to the nature of Jesus' divinity from the Apostolic writings. So important was the understanding of Jesus' divinity that the whole early Church wrestled with it for a few hundred hears following the Apostles, eventually dismissing neoplatonism, Arianism, and other ideas imported into Hebrew thought as an acceptable explanation of the divine nature of Christ. It was the unadulterated writings of the Apostles as well as the Hebrew canon that provided the foundation for the Church's settling of both the Trinity and the hypostatic union. Only a lack of understanding this would lead to a conclusion that the early Church decided the matter and not the writings of the Apostles who were all thoroughly Jewish. If it were up to the Church, it would have gone with any of the other ideas that were influencing church leaders at the time.

Yes, belief that Jesus was the divine Messiah and Son of God was a radical departure from traditional Jewish belief. The Jews were expecting a prophet from God who would deliver them from Roman oppression and (re)establish the Kingdom and throne of David. However, the claim that this is an unexpected departure from Jewish belief does not present an argument that Jesus did not claim to be divine or that these claims are later additions.

Clearly, Jesus followers and even more so his enemies such as Saul of Tarsus would require exceptional evidence to the truth of Jesus' claim to divinity, and that is exactly what they received both through the miracles Jesus performed during his ministry as well as his resurrection. Their transformed lives are just one of many strong evidences that they believed Jesus' claims.

As to the assertion that only Paul and his followers promoted a divine view of Christ, there are multiple documented instances in the Gospels where Jesus claimed to be equal with God and assumed divine prerogatives such as the authority to forgive sins and the right to receive worship. The Gospels document that the Jews sought to stone and kill Jesus for committing blasphemy in claiming equality with God. The Gospel of Mark, which is widely accepted to be the earliest composed Gospel account and to represent the teaching of the Apostle Peter, supports that Jesus' divinity was an early and widespread teaching in Accord with the teaching of the Apostles.

This argument reads like some conspiracy theory: A UFO really crash landed at Roswell. Any evidence that it didn't we can just write off as proof of how deep the conspiracy has penetrated our government and media . . .

Paul, who was a much more radical, zealous Jew than any of the disciples ever dreamed of being, would never have accepted Jesus as divine without dramatic proof on Jesus' part. When Stephen was stoned for declaring that he saw Jesus seated at the right hand of God, Paul was holding the coats for the mob (that is, aiding and encouraging the lynch mob in their act of murder). So the objector finds it odd that the disciples might accept Jesus' divinity (a claim he asserts with no evidence, and simply dismisses all the evidence to the contrary) but doesn't think it odd at all that Paul would go from killing people for blasphemy to engaging in the most pernicious act of blasphemy against Judaism ever: inventing the notion that Jesus was divine.

Several of these 40 objections have tried to do this sort of logic. The fact that Jesus' disciples were willing to break so radically from their first century Pharisaic Judaism is evidence for the Truth of Christianity. I agree with the objector that a bunch of first century Jews would not have thought of the Messiah as a divine figure . . . unless the guy claiming to be the messiah had actually claimed to be divine and given them OVERWHELMING proof of that claim (say by predicting his own resurrection from the dead and then following through by fulfilling that prediction). Yet back in the days when Paul was persecuting the followers of Jesus (for the blasphemy of claiming Jesus was the Son of God), their movement was called "the Way", as in "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me." In Judaism the "way" to God is through the Law and the Covenant. No man can claim to be "the Way" unless he is as divine as God's Law and God's Covenants. (Hence the blasphemy charges for which Paul was imprisoning the followers of "the Way".)

Now we know that Paul and the Jewish church centered in Jerusalem had their differences. We actually have a record of the conflict (see Acts chapter 15). But there is nothing in the debate about Jesus divinity. The conflict between the early Jerusalem church and Paul focused on the Mosaic Law and whether or not Gentiles needed to essentially become Jews in order to be baptized as Christians. Paul argued that Jesus superseded the Torah. And it was Peter himself who backed Paul up at this point. So we know that the disciples were reinterpreting first century Judaism in the light of Jesus' teachings just from that one event.

The only way the "problem" is really a problem, is if one simply brushes aside all the evidence that Jesus taught he was divine, that his disciples taught Jesus was divine, and imagine an argument that we have no evidence ever happened. The argument over Jesus divinity would eventually happen, but not until the third and fourth centuries between Gentile followers of heretical teachers like Arius and Marcion and the Early Church Fathers.

So Paul got Matthew altered when says this of John:

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
The voice of one crying
"In the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord.
Make His paths straight!"
As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
There can be little doubt that the sandal-wearing Lord who would come after John was, on Matthew's view, Jesus.

<Unless Paul made Matthew write that.>

Matthew quotes this passage from Isaiah:

A voice is calling,
"Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness.
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God."
This identifies the sandal-wearing Lord...Jesus...with The LORD of the Old Testament...YHWH.

<Unless Paul made Isaiah write that.>

This is just another take on the "Historical" Jesus meme: the notion that the "real" human Jesus (the first century proto-marxist social justice warrior) was transformed (mostly by Paul) into the "Christ" the divine religious (a word which here means mythological and imaginary) figure whose death would take away the "sins" of the world. You see this meme in every History Channel or PBS "From Jesus to Christ" documentary on the "truth" of the Bible. It's been around since the 1800s. C.S. Lewis even has a whole chapter of the Screwtape Letters with Screwtape gloating about the success of the "Historical" Jesus mode of deconstructing Christianity, and that was written in 1940.

The meme is so played out, obviously transparent, and obviously wrong (as so many of the above comments make clear). If Jesus lived, all the records we have of his teaching, of his disciples teaching indicate that they believed he was a uniquely divine figure. Therefore, the "hip" new-atheists have abandoned the "Historical" Jesus meme and are now arguing that Jesus never really lived. They claim Jesus is really and amalgamation of first century BC & AD Jewish revolutionaries mythologized into a single, spiritualized figure sometime in the second century AD.

This argument, though gaining some ground in the new-atheist books and blogs is one of those "not even wrong" sort of ideas that one can only arrive at by writing off all the evidence as ideologically motivated Christian propaganda as a part of a book that is ideologically motivated atheist propaganda.

why were the religious authorities upset if they did not believe?

Why are there not records to be pointed at showing that his closest disciples recanted?

I would think the Jewish authorities would consider it quite the coup if they could trot out his best friends to discount a couple of troublemakers. Unless all records were destroyed, I'll make the assumption that such testimony wasn't available to them.

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