It is Christmas day as I write this article and I thought it fitting to write some of my thoughts about the man to whom this day is dedicated. In the process of letting go of my religious beliefs, Jesus was the last to go.
As a Christian, I was a big fan of preacher and author, Josh McDowell, who claimed to have spent his younger years in an earnest effort to disprove Christianity, yet could not do so because he couldn’t find a way to refute the person, death and resurrection of Jesus. For many years, I felt the same way as well.
However, this argument presupposes two things: One, that Jesus was a real, historical figure; and two, that the accounts of his miracles (especially his resurrection) are factual, accurate and reliable.
For most of my life, I was convinced that I had a “personal relationship” with him. I could “feel his presence” and talk to him, sing praises to him, worship him. Then I began to realize that all I ever knew about Jesus, I learned in Sunday School, or through the Bible, or through a sermon or books written by Christian authors.
And then I thought it was such a joke for me to claim to have a personal relationship with an entity whom I only know about through second-hand sources, an entity I have not even seen, heard, touched or smelled (or tasted, just to round out the senses).
How do I know that the picture of Jesus in my head was the real and actual Jesus? Was there even a real and actual Jesus?
So I set out to learn and study more about him. I was especially interested in material that was scholarly and as unbiased as possible. I didn’t want anything with an agenda (although that is quite difficult), and I had to do a lot of reading, cross-referencing, listening to debates, arguments, counter-arguments and finally letting everything sink in, letting the emotions dissipate, and doing my own thinking and reflection.
I would just like to share my personal realizations so far in this little quest of mine.
I do not have a clear stand on whether or not Jesus was a real, historical figure. I am around 60% convinced that he is historical because of traditional scholarship and also because of agnostic scholars such as Bart Ehrman. I used to scoff at the idea that Jesus is pure myth but Robert Price and Richard Carrier make some intelligent and compelling arguments for this case and I am intrigued enough to do further readings and reflection on them.
I have reason to highly suspect the miracle accounts. Jesus may have been a real person who existed in history, but much about him may have been embellished and even contrived. The gospels are not first-hand accounts of Jesus’ life as most people believe. They are most probably not written by the people whose names they bear (e.g. the book of Matthew was not really written by Matthew). One has to remember that Matthew and John were illiterate, Aramaic-speaking Jews while all the copies of the gospels that we have are written in highly literate Greek. Moreover, they were written at least 30 to 60 years after the events had taken place — that is more than enough time for legends and fiction to develop. Besides, we do not even have the originals of these documents but rather copies of copies of copies of copies.
We might think that it would be easy for actual eyewitnesses to refute the gospels if they had not been factual. But how exactly would they do that? If a document reaches another city where no one has heard of Jesus, and one person preaches it so fervently there, would there be an eyewitness to refute what he says?
Even in our generation, we have charismatic personalities able to convince large numbers of people to believe their slant of “truth” — think of political leaders like Hitler or Mao, or religious founders like Joseph Smith or Felix Manalo.
Many historical documents (even supposedly reliable ones) are full of “miracles” simply because people at that time were more superstitious and less knowledgeable about science and hence explained the unexplainable with magic or stories of divine intervention.
I do not claim to have all the answers about Jesus, or that my ideas are right, and honestly, it’s more confusing now than before when I only listened to one side of the argument. But I would not have it any other way. I was raised believing that this man’s life was the most important thing in my life (and in all life, for that matter) — and millions around the world, including many of my closest friends, still believe it. I owe it to myself and to them to find out the truth.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.