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Articles - Jesus Christ

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty

Wilbur M. Smith authored a classic study on the person and work of Jesus Christ titled, The Supernaturalness of Christ. In the Preface to the book, Smith says,

This volume is an attempt to set forth the basic facts involved in the birth, the Transfiguration, the miraculous acts, and the Resurrection, of Jesus Christ, that people may have an opportunity to individually come to definite conclusions as to whether Christ was or was not a truly supernatural person, the Son sent by the Father to be the Saviour of the world. (xv-xvi)

In a chapter that addresses the Transfiguration of Christ, in the aforementioned book, Smith observed:

The Apostle Peter in his Second Epistle . . . makes very few references to anything in the life of our Lord . . . aside from the frequent mention of Christ’s holy death and glorious Resurrection. There is one notable exception, namely, the detailed recalling of the Transfiguration, of which he himself was an eyewitness. His words are striking and powerful: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to Him by the Majestic Glory—this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice, we, ourselves, heard borne out of Heaven, when we were with Him in the holy mountain” (II Peter 1:16-18). (175-76)

The above cited words from the apostle Peter provide one of the foundational statements on the crucial doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. The text implies that the case for the deity of Christ rests on (1) events that witness its historicity, (2) eyewitnesses that testify to its integrity, and (3) an excellence of His person and work that argues its divinity. The following valid argument is set forth as the logical framework to prove the case for the deity of Christ.

1. If the case for Christianity is composed of actual historical events reported by reliable eyewitnesses, and if these events reveal an excellence in the person and work of Jesus Christ that necessitates that He is divine, then the case for Christianity is true, and Jesus is the Son of God.

2. The case for Christianity is composed of actual historical events reported by reliable eyewitnesses, and these events reveal an excellence in the person and work of Jesus Christ that necessitates that He is divine.

3. Therefore, the case for Christianity is true, and Jesus is the Son of God.

Events of Historicity
In his scholarly volume on the reliability of the New Testament documents, F. F. Bruce says, “The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories” (119). The basic implication in Peter’s statement from the text of 2 Peter 1:16 is that Christian faith is grounded in real, true, historical events in reference to a real Person in human history—Jesus of Nazareth. Numerous other statements in the New Testament agree: Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3; 4:19-20; 26:24-26; Rom. 1:1-4; John 20:30-31; 21:25; 1 John 1:1-3, et al.

Oxford professor Richard Swinburne recently has written the following concerning the historical foundation of the case for Christianity:

. . . Luke was claiming to write a basically historical work; and so he must have understood Mark’s Gospel . . . as a basically historical work. . . . Matthew was also seeking to write a basically historical work. Most of the Acts of the Apostles reads like any other contemporary work of history. . . . [T]he later parts . . . are so detailed and matter-of-fact as to have a diary—like quality to them. . . . The four Roman governors (three of Judaea and one from Greece), Pontius Pilate, Gallio, Festus, and Felix, and the four kings of Judaea, Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, and Herod Agrippa I and II, who, according to the Gospels and Acts interacted with Jesus and Paul, are well known from the history of Rome and also from the writings of the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus. Some of these interactions enable us to give precise dates to events described in the New Testament. . . . [W]e should take the synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke] as basically reliable historical sources, to be believed on any matter in the absence of positive reason for believing their account of some particular matter to be false.
. . . [T]he Gospels are seeking to tell us literally true history and we should believe them. . . . I am treating the Bible, and in particular the New Testament simply as an ordinary historical document written by ordinary human authors whose truth or falsity is to be assessed by normal historical methods. (93-96)

Following this defense of the New Testament as a reliable historical document, Swinburne says, “Later, in the book we shall consider whether and how far it should be treated as having a much higher status, as ‘inspired Scripture’” (96). Suffice it to say, the New Testament makes the claim that it does have “a much higher status, as ‘inspired Scripture.’” It is not without great significance that Peter, in the very context in which he affirms the historical nature of the case for Christianity, also sets forth the claim of the divine origin of all Scripture based on the Holy Spirit guiding the writers (2 Peter 1:19-21). Other New Testament statements imply the same: 1 Corinthians 2:13; 14:37; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Peter 3:16, et al. Thomas B. Warren developed the basic logical argument that proves the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God.

Adolf Deissmann, whom Smith called “one of the greatest Greek scholars of the last half century, whose knowledge of the historical and archeological material in the New Testament was probably as thorough and profound as that of any man in the Christian church” (64) in his generation, wrote: “The foundations of our historical knowledge of Early Christianity taken as a whole seem to me unassailable. Although hidden to those eyes which cannot see into the depths, they lie huge and massive and imperishable in the depth” (165-66). 

 Eyewitnesses with Integrity

Christianity is not ultimately centered in religious ideas but in historical events that provide “solid evidence—evidence furnished by the personal observation of competent witnesses” (Barnes 228). The witness of one man was not accepted in court. There had to be two or three witnesses (cf. Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17-18). The case for Christianity is built upon the incontrovertible testimony of multiple witnesses (cf. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 10:40-41; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8; 1 John 1:1-3, et al.). The physical senses of hearing, sight, and touch, and “the combination of such [answered] the error of the heretical teaching of Cerinthus and the Docetic Gnostics” who denied the reality of Deity having come in the flesh during the time of the Apostles and other eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ (Pugh 4).

Richard Swinburne defends the integrity of those who have provided eyewitness testimony for the case for Christianity. He wrote, 

It is a basic principle for assessing what other people tell us . . . called the Principle of Testimony, that it is rational to believe what others tell us (that is, that what others tell us is probably true) unless there is reason to believe otherwise. And likewise we should understand what people say (or write) in its most literal sense, again unless there is reason to believe that it is meant to be understood in some less natural sense. Many of the early Christians were killed for refusing to deny Christian doctrines based on the life and teaching of Jesus, which indicates they had firm beliefs in those doctrines. (94)

Harvey W. Everest, in his excellent text book on Christian Evidence used at Butler University and titled A Divine Demonstration, argued the credibility of the New Testament on the basis of the character of the witnesses. He says,

These writers were either deceived, deceivers, or true witnesses. (1) They were not deceived. The things testified of were so plain, and many of them so often repeated, that the supposition is absurd. (2) They were not deceivers. Their writings, their lives, and their sufferings, put this hypothesis out of the question. (3) They were, then, reliable witnesses. As this is the only tenable position, so it is the most natural, and the one that accounts for all the facts in the case. . . . (70)

Bales set forth six basic characteristics of a competent witness. They are:
   He must be contemporary.
   He must be able to report that concerning which he testifies as a matter of personal experience.
   He must provide evidence that he is sufficiently interested in the event reported so that he is able to give it his attention.
   The witness must be able to show that he possesses such mental capacity that he is able to understand the things he sees and hears.
   He must give evidence that he has a memory that is able to reproduce that which he has seen and heard.
   The witness must be honest and must speak the truth regardless of the consequences. (31)

The apostles of Christ, as well as the other witnesses for the New Testament case for Christianity, possessed all of the above characteristics. And so we conclude the case for Christianity is reported by reliable eyewitnesses as set forth in the New Testament. How could one rationally conclude that the New Testament witnesses to the case for Christianity were anything but persons of integrity, and thus reliable eyewitnesses? 

Excellence of Deity

Peter affirmed that the witnesses to the case for Christianity “were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16, emp. added). The word majesty (megaleiotes) means “the majesty of the Divine. Here it expresses the divine majesty as revealed in the transfiguration of Jesus” (Green 83). It “is reserved in the NT for God’s majesty, supremacy and splendour” (Theile 426). “The reference is to the majesty of Christ which was manifested at the transfiguration and of which the disciples were initiated eye-witnesses” (Grundmann 542). On this usage, Thayer says, “. . . the majesty of God, Lk. 9:43 . . . the visible splendour of the divine majesty . . .” (394). Arndt and Gingrich say it is “grandeur, sublimity . . . only of a divinity or of divine attributes” (498). When Jesus rebuked a demon that had possessed a child, and He healed the child and returned the child to his father, those who saw these events were “amazed at the majesty of God” (Luke 9:43, emp. added). A related word appears in 2 Peter 1:17 where the text says, “For He [Christ] received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent glory . . .” (emp. added). The word excellent here means “magnificent, splendid; full of majesty, majestic” (Thayer 394). Vincent defines it as “sublime” (686). Green says it refers to the “divine power” and “divine nature” (84). The case for Christianity, as set forth in the person and the work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, manifests Divine Excellence.

“The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history” (7, emp. added). This is the opening line in Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975) written by former agnostic Malcom Muggeridge, notable British journalist, author, and satirist. Muggeridge continued:

The story of how Jesus came into the world . . . and how [H]e left the world . . . has, it is safe to say, been more told, mulled over, analysed and expounded and illustrated, than any other in human history. . . . The dogmatism of science has become a new orthodoxy . . . to the point that to believe today in a miraculous happening like the Virgin Birth is to appear a kind of imbecile, whereas to believe in an unproven and unproveable scientific proposition like the Theory of Evolution . . . is to stand condemned as an . . . enemy of progress and enlightenment. . . . One thing is clear to [this] old journalist who has done his fair share of putting garbled or ‘awkward’ copy into shape . . . on closer acquaintance with the Gospels, my sense of their beauty and sublimity has grown ever greater. . . . [T]hey are, in the truest sense and most literal sense of the word, inspired, in their portrayal of the central character, Jesus. . . . If I ever set eyes on the face [of Jesus] . . . it will be for me a moment of great and joyous recognition. (7-8, 20, 40-42, emp. added)

Dinesh D’Souza, in What’s So Great about Christianity (2007), implies the proposition that is at the center of proving the case for the Deity of Jesus of Nazareth when he says, “The Christ we encounter in the New Testament is so extraordinary that it’s hard to imagine the Gospel writers inventing such a person” (295). The proposition is: Jesus Christ is beyond human invention. Stott called Him “The incomparable Christ. There is nobody like him; there never has been, and there never will be” (17).

Ernast Renan was a brilliant 19th century linguist. In 1848 he won the Volney Prize for his Essay on the Semitic Languages. He was appointed professor of Hebrew at the College de France in 1862. But he used the occasion of his inaugural lecture to denounce the deity of Christ. He was promptly dismissed but later restored to his teaching position. His most famous work was The Life of Jesus published in 1863. He argued Jesus was a deluded fanatic, and the Christian religion was not a divine purpose. However, the final words he wrote in his book are as follows: “But whatever may be the unexpected phenomena of the future, Jesus will not be surpassed. His worship will constantly renew its youth, the tale of his life will cause ceaseless tears, his sufferings will soften the best hearts; all the ages will proclaim that among the sons of men there is none borne who is greater than Jesus” (227).

More recently (2003), a Jewish studies professor at Oxford University uncharacteristically acknowledged the Excellence of the Person of Jesus Christ when he amazingly wrote:

Jesus stood out as incomparably superior. Second to none in profundity of insight and grandeur of character, he is in particular an unsurpassed master of the art of laying bare the inmost core of spiritual truth and bringing every issue back to the essence of religion. . . . [N]o objective and enlightened student of the Gospels can help but be struck by the incomparable superiority of Jesus. (Vermes 127, 149)

Jesus is incomparably superior in what He said, how He said all that He said, and what He did, and how He did all that He did. The witnesses to His majesty said, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). Military officers declared, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). Some accused Him of being possessed by a demon, but others answered, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:21). “. . . [H]e had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:25). “You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips” (Ps. 45:2). His life, His death, and resurrection declare an Excellence that necessitates Divinity. 

(The) whole aspect of his life where his moral impeccability, his majesty, and his perfection shine out like a beacon light for all to see. There is no room for argument here—the moral grandeur of Christ silences any dissent. Consider him when he was here on the good earth as an incarnate man. Examine him closely—his obedience to God’s commands, his compassion, his instant sensitivity to the needs of others, his approachability. He must have been indeed the most approachable man of all time. Sinners and publicans thronged him even when he sat to eat; they even tore down a roof to get to him, without being reproved. Look at the portrait of him dealing with that tense situation in which a woman taken in adultery was perilously near to being stoned to death, and his gentle deliverance of her. Or look at his reaction to his enemies and all the calumnies and pain they inflicted upon him. On one occasion, against strong pressure, he flung a challenge at the feet of his detractors—‘Which of you convicteth me of sin?’ (John 8:46)—and no one dared to respond! His moral purity was too patent and glorious for even his enemies to deny. (qtd. in Blaiklock 94). 

Also from the source cited immediately above, the author sums up, by citing one of the greatest world historians, what there is about Jesus that places Him in a league by Himself, and sufficiently evidences that He is more than a man. He is the revelation of Divine Majesty.

Who was Jesus? The truth of Christianity stands or falls, with the Person of its Founder. The wonders claimed for His birth, and His triumph over death, fall naturally into place if He was more than man. . . .

How curiously the force of that personality and His words which so cogently give itexpression, extend themselves down the ages and find respect for their remotest echoes. I have quoted elsewhere the best known of modern historians, Arnold J. Toynbee. Make what you will of the amazing scholar’s allusive style, his testimony to Christ’s worth and to the potent projection of His claims down the long corridor of history remains. Halfway through the sixth volume of his Study of History, Toynbee makes a remarkable comment. He has discussed for some eighty pages the ‘saviours of society,’ those who by defending the past, by reaching for the future, by war or peace, or power or persuasion, by claims to wisdom or claims to divinity, have sought to stay some social catastrophe, some disintegration of a culture. Toynbee concludes:

“When we first set out on this quest we found ourselves moving in the midst of a mighty marching host; but as we have pressed forward on our way, the marchers, company by company, have been falling out of the race. The first to fail were the swordsmen, the next the archaists, the next the futurists, the next the philosophers, until at length there were no more human competitors left in the running. In the last stage of all, our motley host of would-be saviours, human and divine, has dwindled to a single company of none but gods; and now the strain has been testing the staying-power of these last remaining runners, notwithstanding their superhuman strength. At the final ordeal of death, few, even of these would-be saviour-gods, have dared to put their title to the test by plunging into the icy river. And now as we stand and gaze with our eyes fixed upon the farther shore, a single figure rises from the flood, and straightway fills the whole horizon. There is the Saviour; ‘and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his had; he shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied.’”

A single Figure rises. (Blaiklock 88-89)

Conclusion
The case for Christianity argued in the foregoing has been presented within the following logical framework:

1. If the case for Christianity is composed of actual historical events reported by reliable eyewitnesses, and if these events reveal an excellence in the person and work of Jesus Christ that necessitates that He is divine, then the case for Christianity is true, and Jesus is the Son of God.

2. The case for Christianity is composed of actual historical events reported by reliable eyewitnesses, and these events reveal an excellence in the person and work of Jesus Christ that necessitates that He is divine. 

3. Therefore, the case for Christianity is true, and Jesus is the Son of God.

The above argument is a valid hypothetical syllogism (modus ponens). The antecedent of the major premise (1) is affirmed in the minor premise (2). Therefore, if the premises (1, 2) are true, then the conclusion (3) is true. I am making the claim that the premises are true and, thus, the conclusion is also true.

From a small, but powerful, volume in 1889, by Atticus Haygood, I cite the following as a summation of the argument:

. . . I will show that it was impossible . . . for them [the apostles] to have invented such a story as they tell us of “The Man of Galilee.” . . . The facts of [H]is humanity and of [H]is work and influence in the world forbid us to classify Jesus with men, and the recognition of [H]is divinity alone explains the facts of [H]is humanity. Considered as God-man all is in harmony; miracles take their proper place in the records of [H]is history, and mind and nature, heaven and earth, God and man meet in Jesus, the Christ.
But—if [H]e be only a man—[H]e is such a man as were a thousand times worth dying for and following forever, through time and eternity. (3, 60)

 

Works Cited

Arndt, William F., and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 1957. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1973.

Bales, James D. Gospel Treasure Graded Bible Lessons. College-Age Students Year 1, Book 2. Dallas: Good News, 1951.

Barnes, Albert. Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical: James, Peter, John, and Jude. 1949. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.

Blaiklock, E. M. Jesus Christ: Man or Myth? 1974. Nashville: Nelson, 1984.

Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 1943. 5th rev. ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1974.

Deissmann, Adolf. The New Testament in the Light of Modern Research. Garden City: n.p., 1929.

D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great about Christianity. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2007.

Everest, Harvey W. The Divine Demonstration. 1884. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1972.

Green, Michael. The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude. Tyndale New Testament

Commentaries. 1968. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.

Grundmann, W. “Megaleiotes.” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Ed. Gerhard Kittel. Vol. 4. 1967.

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.

Haygood, Atticus G. The Man of Galilee. 1889. N.p.: n.p., n.d.

Muggeridge, Malcom. Jesus: The Man Who Lives. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

Pugh, Charles C. III. That Your Joy may Be Full. New Martinsville: Threefold, 2007.

Renan, Ernest. The Life of Jesus. Great Minds Series. 1935. Buffalo: Prometheus, 1991.

Smith, Wilbur M. The Supernaturalness of Christ. 1940. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974.

Stott, John. The Incomparable Christ. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001.

Swinburne, Richard. Was Jesus God? Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.

Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956.

Theile, Friedrich. “Large, Small.” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Gen. Ed. Colin

Brown.Vol. 2. 1967. Grand Rapids: Regency-Zondervan, 1976.

Vermes, Geza. Jesus in His Jewish Context. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.

Vincent, Marvin R. Word Studies in the New Testament. Vol. 1. 1886. Mclean: MacDonald, n.d.