Answer: “I think,” a young man told me earnestly, “that Jesus’ teachings were good, but He was just an ordinary man. After He died, His followers invented the story about the Resurrection and started talking as if He were God. They meant well, of course, they were only trying to gain more support for their new religion. But if Jesus had known that they’d made a God out of Him, He would have been shocked.”
Many people like the idea of acknowledging Jesus as a great moral Teacher, but they don’t want to recognize Him as God. So they suggest that all His claims to deity in the Gospels were added by over-zealous followers after His death. This hypothesis may be convenient to those who wish to pick and choose among Christ’s teachings, but is it true? Is it even logical?
Even if we assume that the apostles managed to deceive the Jewish people about the resurrection of Christ (a quite impossible fraud), what did they have to gain by this deception? The hypothesis asserts that they “were only trying to gain more support for their new religion.” But what profit would the apostles receive from making a god of a dead rabbi and making disciples in his name? If personal gain was what the apostles had in mind, they failed miserably. In fact, their own teachings defeated them, for they urged people to follow Christ, and not themselves (Acts 14:13-15; 1 Cor. 1:12,13; 2 Cor. 4:5); they did not make any financial profit from their converts (Acts 20:33, 34; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8); and for preaching Christ they received not fame and admiration but persecution, and torture, and death (Acts 4:2, 3; Acts 5:18, 40; Acts 7:54-8:2; 2 Cor. 6:4, 5; 2 Cor. 11:23-28).
No man will give up his life for a belief which he knows to be false. So why would the apostles be willing to suffer shame, imprisonment, beatings, and death in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ if they knew full well that Jesus was just a dead rabbi? Some suggest that the disciples’ eagerness to spread Christ’s teachings led them to make a god of Him and then nobly give up their lives to establish His credibility. But stripped of Jesus’ claims to deity and all the things He taught which depended upon His being the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), there is very little left of His teachings in the Gospels. All that remains are a few simple moral principles which the Old Testament (among others) had already established. Why would the disciples be so passionate about spreading teachings that were really nothing new?
Those who think that the deity of Christ is not essential to His teachings clearly know little or nothing about what He actually taught. Again and again Jesus insisted that He was the only way to God and that men must follow Him. His whole ministry was founded upon the idea that He was far more than just an ordinary rabbi, He was the Son of God. We may accept that claim or reject it, but we cannot pretend that Jesus was just an ordinary man with some misguided followers. Either He was who He claimed to be, and we ought to worship Him, or He was a liar and we ought to reject Him. There is no other option.
R. J. Bohner