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Jesus Christ and Christianity
Virgin Birth
Death and resurrection
Second Coming
Names and titles

Cultural and Historical Background

Perspectives on Jesus
Biblical Jesus
Religious perspectives
Historical perspective
Mythographic perspective

Jesus in culture
Cultural depictions of Jesus

Jesus Christ: The Nazarene King of kings and Lord of lords (8–2 BC/BCE to 29–36 AD/CE), [1] also known as Jesus of Nazareth, is the central figure of Christianity. He is also called Jesus Christ, where "Jesus" is an Anglicization of the Greek Ίησους (Iēsous), itself a Hellenization of the Hebrew יהושע (Yehoshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic ישוע (Yeshua), meaning "YHWH is salvation"; and where "Christ" is a title derived from the Greek christós, meaning the "Anointed One," which corresponds to the Hebrew-derived "Messiah."

The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Most scholars in the fields of history and biblical studies agree that Jesus was a Galilean Jew, was regarded as a teacher and healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, and was crucified in Jerusalem on orders of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate under the accusation of sedition against the Roman Empire. [2] [3] Very few scholars believe that all ancient texts concerning Jesus are either completely accurate or completely inaccurate concerning Jesus' life. [4]

Christian views of Jesus (see also Christology) center on the belief that Jesus is the Messiah whose coming was promised in the Old Testament and that he was resurrected after his crucifixion. Christians predominantly believe that Jesus is God incarnate, who came to provide salvation and reconciliation with God. Nontrinitarian Christians profess various other interpretations regarding his divinity (see below). Other Christian beliefs include Jesus' Virgin Birth, performance of miracles, fulfillment of biblical prophecy, ascension into Heaven, and future Second Coming.

In Islam, Jesus (Arabic: عيسى, commonly transliterated as Isa) is considered one of God's most beloved and important prophets, a bringer of divine scripture, a worker of miracles, and the Messiah. Muslims, however, do not share the Christian belief in the crucifixion or divinity of Jesus. Muslims believe that Jesus' crucifixion was a divine illusion and that he ascended bodily to heaven. Most Muslims also believe that he will return to the earth in the company of the Mahdi once the earth has become full of sin and injustice at the time of the arrival of Islam's Antichrist-like Dajjal.



The most detailed accounts of Jesus' birth are contained in the Gospel of Matthew (probably written between 65 and 90 AD/CE), [5] and the Gospel of Luke (probably written between 65 and 100 AD/CE). [6] Scholars debate over the details of Jesus' birth, and few claim to know the exact year or date of his birth or death.

The nativity accounts in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke do not mention a date or time of year for the birth of Jesus. In Western Christianity, it has been traditionally celebrated on December 25 as Christmas (in the liturgical season of Christmastide), a date that can be traced as early as 330 among Roman Christians. Before then, and still today in Eastern Christianity, Jesus' birth was generally celebrated on January 6 as part of the feast of Theophany, [7] also known as Epiphany, which commemorated not only Jesus' birth but also his baptism by John in the Jordan River and possibly additional events in Jesus' life. Some scholars note that Luke's descriptions of shepherds' activities at the time of Jesus' birth suggest a spring or summer date. [8] Scholars speculate that the date of the celebration was moved by the Roman Catholic Church in an attempt to replace the Roman festival of Saturnalia (or more specifically, the birthday of the Roman god Sol Invictus).

In the 247th year during the Diocletian Era (based on Diocletian's ascension to the Roman throne), Dionysius Exiguus attempted to pinpoint the number of years since Jesus' birth, arriving at a figure of 753 years after the founding of Rome. Dionysius then set Jesus' birth as being December 25 1 ACN (for "Ante Christum Natum," or "before Christ (was) born"), and assigned AD 1 to the following year—thereby establishing the system of numbering years from the birth of Jesus: Anno Domini (which translates as "in the year of Lord"). The system was created in the then current year 532, and almost two centuries later it won acceptance and became the established calendar in Western civilization.

It is hard to date Jesus' birth because some sources are now gone and over 1900 years have passed since the Gospels were written; however, based on a lunar eclipse that the first-century historian Josephus reported shortly before the death of Herod the Great (who plays a role in Matthew's account), as well as a more accurate understanding of the succession of Roman Emperors, Jesus' birth would have been before the year 3 BC/BCE.

The Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew both place Jesus' birth under the reign of Herod the Great. Luke similarly describes Jesus' birth as occurring during the Roman governorship of Quirinius, and involving the first census of the Roman provinces of Syria and Iudaea. Josephus places the governorship of Quirinius, and a census, in 6 AD/CE (which Luke refers to in Acts 5:37), long after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC/BCE. Hence, debate has centered over whether or not the sources can be reconciled by asserting a prior governorship of Quirinius in Syria, or if an earlier census was conducted and, if not, which source to consider in error. [9]

The date of Jesus' death is also unclear. The Gospel of John depicts the crucifixion as directly before the Passover festival on Friday 14 Nisan (called the Quartodeciman), whereas the synoptic gospels (except for Mark 14:2) describe Jesus' Last Supper as the Passover meal on Friday 15 Nisan; however, some scholars hold that the synoptic account is harmonious with the account in John. [10] Further, the Jews followed a lunisolar calendar with phases of the moon as dates, complicating calculations of any exact date in a solar calendar. According to John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew, which takes into consideration the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate and the dates of the Passover in those years, Jesus' death was probably on April 7, 30 AD/CE or April 3, 33 AD/CE. [11]

Life and teachings, as told in the Gospels

The Bible's four canonical gospels are the main sources for the traditional Christian view of Jesus' life. Christian scholars generally believe the gospel accounts to be historically accurate; critical scholars, on the other hand, debate the extent of their historicity.

Genealogy and family

Of the four gospels, only Matthew and Luke give accounts of Jesus' genealogy. The accounts in the two gospels are substantially different, and various theories have been proposed to explain the discrepancies. [12] Both accounts, however, trace his line back to King David and from there to Abraham. These lists are identical between Abraham and David, but they differ between David and Joseph. Matthew starts with Solomon and proceeds through the kings of Judah to the last king, Jeconiah. After Jeconiah, the line of kings terminated when Babylon conquered Judah. Thus, Matthew shows that Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of Israel. Luke's genealogy is longer than Matthew's; it goes back to Adam and provides more names between David and Jesus.

Joseph, Jesus' father, appears in descriptions of Jesus' childhood. John's account of Jesus commending Mary into the care of the beloved disciple during his crucifixion (John 19:25–27) suggests that Joseph had died by the time of Jesus' ministry. [13] The New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, and Galatians tell of Jesus' relatives, including what may have been brothers and sisters. [14] The Greek word adelphos in these verses, often translated as brother, can refer to any familial relation, and most Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians translate the word as kinsman or cousin in this context (see Perpetual virginity of Mary). Luke also mentions that Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, was a "cousin" or "relative" of Mary (Luke 1:36), which would make John a distant cousin of Jesus.

Nativity and early life

According to Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea to Mary, a virgin, by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke gives an account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her that she was chosen to bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26–38). According to Luke, an order of Caesar Augustus had forced Mary and Joseph to leave their homes in Nazareth and come to the home of Joseph's ancestors, the house of David, for the Census of Quirinius.

After Jesus' birth, the couple was forced to use a manger in place of a crib because there was no room for them in the town's inn (Luke 2:1–7). According to Luke, an angel announced Jesus' birth to shepherds who came to see the newborn child and who subsequently publicized what they had witnessed throughout the area (see The First Noël). Matthew also tells of the "Wise Men" or "Magi" who brought gifts to the infant Jesus after following a star which they believed was a sign that the King of the Jews had been born (Matthew 2:1–12).

Jesus' childhood home is identified in the Bible as the town of Nazareth in Galilee. Except for a journey to Egypt by his family in his infancy to escape Herod's Massacre of the Innocents and a short trip to Tyre and Sidon (in what is now Lebanon), the Gospels place all other events in Jesus' life in ancient Israel.[15] According to Matthew, the family remained in Egypt until Herod's death, whereupon they returned to Nazareth to avoid living under the authority of Herod's son and successor Archelaus (Matthew 2:19–23).

Luke tells that Jesus was found teaching in the temple by his parents after being lost. The Finding in the Temple (Luke 2:41–52) is the only event between Jesus' infancy and baptism mentioned in any of the canonical Gospels. According to Luke, Jesus was "about thirty years of age" when he was baptized (Luke 3:23). In Mark, Jesus is called a carpenter. Matthew says he was a carpenter's son, suggesting that Jesus may have spent some of his first 30 years practicing carpentry with his father (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55).

Baptism and Temptation

All three synoptic Gospels describe the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, an event which Biblical scholars describe as the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. According to these accounts, Jesus came to the Jordan River where John the Baptist had been preaching and baptizing people in the crowd. Matthew describes John as initially hesitant to comply with Jesus' request for John to baptize him, stating that it was Jesus who should baptize him. Jesus persisted, "It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). After Jesus was baptized and rose from the water, Mark states Jesus "saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven saying: 'You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Mark 1:10–11). The Gospel of John doesn't include the baptism but does attest that Jesus is the very one about whom John the Baptist had been preaching—the Son of God.

Following his baptism, Jesus was led into the desert by God where he fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1–2). During this time, the devil appeared to him and tempted Jesus three times. Each time, Jesus refused each temptation with a quote of scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy. Having failed, the devil departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus (Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12–13, Luke 4:1–13).


The Gospels state that Jesus, as Messiah, was sent to "give his life as a ransom for many" and "preach the good news of the Kingdom of God."[16] Over the course of his ministry, Jesus is said to have performed various miracles, including healings, exorcisms, walking on water, turning water into wine, and raising several people, such as Lazarus, from the dead (John 11:1–44). The Gospel of John describes three different passover feasts over the course of Jesus' ministry. This implies that Jesus preached for a period of three years, although some interpretations of the Synoptic Gospels suggest a span of only one year. [17] The focus of his ministry was toward his closest adherents, the Twelve Apostles, though many of his followers were considered disciples. Jesus led an apocalyptic following. He preached that the end of the current world would come unexpectedly, and that he would return to judge the world, especially according to how they treated the vulnerable; for this reason, he called on his followers to be ever alert and faithful. Jesus also taught that repentance was necessary to escape hell, and promised to give those who believe in him eternal life (John 3:16–18).

At the height of his ministry, Jesus attracted huge crowds numbering in the thousands, primarily in the areas of Galilee and Perea (in modern-day Israel and Jordan respectively). [18] Some of Jesus' most famous teachings come from the Sermon on the Mount, which contained the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. Jesus often employed parables, such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Sower. His teachings encouraged unconditional self-sacrificing God-like love for God and for all people. During his sermons, he preached about service and humility, the forgiveness of sin, faith, turning the other cheek, love for one's enemies as well as friends, and the need to follow the spirit of the law in addition to the letter. [19]

Jesus often met with society's outcasts, such as the publicani (Imperial tax collectors who were despised for extorting money), including the apostle Matthew; when the Pharisees objected to Jesus' meeting with sinners rather than the righteous, Jesus replied that it was the sick who need a physician, not the healthy (Matthew 9:9–13). According to Luke and John, Jesus also made efforts to extend his ministry to the Samaritans, who followed a different form of the Israelite religion. This is reflected in his preaching to the Samaritans of Sychar, resulting in their conversion (John 4:1–42).

According to the synoptic gospels, Jesus led three of his apostles—Peter, John, and James—to the top of a mountain to pray. While there, he was transfigured before them, his face shining like the sun and his clothes brilliant white; Elijah and Moses appeared adjacent to him. A bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the sky said, "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased." [20] The gospels also state that toward the end of his ministry, Jesus began to warn his disciples of his future death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21–28).

Arrest, trial, and death

In the account given by the synoptic gospels, Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival where a large crowd came to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!" [21] Following his triumphal entry, [22] Jesus created a disturbance at Herod's Temple by overturning the tables of the moneychangers who set up shop there, and claiming that they had made the Temple a "den of robbers." (Mark 11:17). Later that week, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples—an event subsequently known as the Last Supper—in which he prophesied that he would be betrayed by one of his disciples, and would then be executed. In this ritual he took bread and wine in hand, saying: "this is my body which is given for you" and "this cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood," and instructed them to "do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:7–20). Following the supper, Jesus and his disciples went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.

While in the Garden, Jesus was arrested by temple guards on the orders of the Sanhedrin and the high priest, Caiaphas (Luke 22:47–52, Matthew 26:47–56). The arrest took place clandestinely at night to avoid a riot, as Jesus was popular with the people at large (Mark 14:2). Judas Iscariot, one of his apostles, betrayed Jesus by identifying him to the guards with a kiss. Simon Peter, another one of Jesus' apostles, used a sword to attack one of Jesus' captors, cutting off his ear, which, according to Luke, Jesus immediately healed miraculously. [23] Jesus rebuked the apostle, stating "all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). After his arrest, Jesus' apostles went into hiding.

During the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus, the high priests and elders asked Jesus, "Are you the Son of God?," and after he replied, "You say that I am," they condemned Jesus for blasphemy (Luke 22:70–71). The high priests then turned him over to the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, based on an accusation of sedition for claiming to be King of the Jews. [24] When Jesus came before Pilate, Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" to which he replied, "It is as you say." According to the Gospels, Pilate personally felt that Jesus was not guilty of any crime against the Romans, and since there was a custom at Passover for the Roman governor to free a prisoner (a custom not recorded outside the Gospels), Pilate offered the crowd a choice between Jesus of Nazareth and an insurrectionist named Barabbas. The crowd chose to have Barabbas freed and Jesus crucified. Pilate washed his hands to indicate that he was innocent of the injustice of the decision (Matthew 27:11–26).

According to all four Gospels, Jesus died before late afternoon at Calvary, which was also called Golgotha. The wealthy Judean Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin according to Mark and Luke, received Pilate's permission to take possession of Jesus' body, placing it in a tomb. [25] According to John, Joseph was aided by Nicodemus, who joined him to help bury Jesus, and who appears in other parts of John's gospel (John 19:38–42). The three Synoptic Gospels tell of the darkening of the sky from twelve until three that afternoon; Matthew also mentions an earthquake (Matthew 27:51).

Resurrection and Ascension

According to the Gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. [26] The Gospel of Matthew states that an angel appeared near the tomb of Jesus and announced his resurrection to Mary Magdelene and "another Mary" who had arrived to anoint the body (Matthew 28:1–10). According to Luke there were two angels (Luke 24:4), and according to Mark there was a youth dressed in white (Mark 16:5). Mark states that on the morning of his resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). John states that when Mary looked into the tomb, two angels asked her why she was crying; and as she turned round she initially failed to recognize Jesus until he spoke her name (John 20:11–18).

The Acts of the Apostles state that Jesus appeared to various people in various places over the next forty days. Hours after his resurrection, he appeared to two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). To his assembled disciples he showed himself on the evening after his resurrection (John 20:19). Although his own ministry had been specifically to Jews, Jesus is said to have sent his apostles to the Gentiles with the Great Commission and ascended to heaven while a cloud concealed him from their sight. According to Acts, Paul of Tarsus also saw Jesus during his Road to Damascus experience. Jesus promised to come again to fulfill the remainder of Messianic prophecy. [27]

Fulfillment of prophecy

According to the Gospels, Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection fulfilled many prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible. See, for example, the virgin birth, the flight into Egypt, Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), and the suffering servant.


Scholars have used the historical method to develop probable reconstructions of Jesus' life. Some scholars draw a distinction between Jesus as reconstructed through historical methods and Jesus as understood through a theological point of view, while other scholars hold that a theological Jesus represents a historical figure. [28] The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A small minority of scholars dispute Jesus' existence.

Reconstructing a historical Jesus

Secular historians generally describe Jesus as an itinerant preacher and leader of a religious movement within Judaism. [29] According to historical reconstruction, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, taught in parables and aphorisms, challenged pious traditions, legalism and social hierarchy, and was crucified by the Romans. Historians are divided over whether Jesus led a career of healing and exorcism, preached the end of the world was imminent, and saw his crucifixion as inevitable.

Most scholars agree the Gospel of Mark was written about the time of the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans under Titus in the year 70, and that the other gospels written between 70–100. [30] The historical outlook on Jesus relies on criticism of the Bible, especially the gospels. Many scholars have sought to reconstruct Jesus' life in terms of contemporaneous political, cultural, and religious currents in Israel, including differences between Galilee and Judea, and between different sects such the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots. [31] [32] and in terms of conflicts among Jews in the context of Roman occupation.

Ties to religious groups

The Gospels record that Jesus was a Nazarene, but the meaning of this word is vague. [32] Some scholars speculate that Jesus was himself a Pharisee. [33] In Jesus' day, the two main schools of thought among the Pharisees were the House of Hillel, which had been founded by the eminent rabbi Hillel the Elder, and the House of Shammai. Jesus' assertion of hypocrisy may have been directed against the stricter members of the House of Shammai, although he also agreed with their teachings on divorce (Mark 10:1–12).[34] Jesus also commented on the House of Hillel's teachings (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a) concerning the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28–34) and the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12).

Other scholars theorize that Jesus was an Essene, a sect of Judaism not mentioned in the New Testament. [35] Still other scholars hypothesize that Jesus led a new apocalyptic sect, possibly related to John the Baptist, [36] Still other scholars conjecture that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet [37] who became early Christian after the Great Commission spread his teachings to the Gentiles. [38] This is distinct from an earlier commission Jesus gave to the twelve Apostles, limited to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" and specifically excluding the Gentiles or Samaritans (Matthew 10).

Names and titles

According to most historians, Jesus probably lived in Galilee for most of his life and he probably spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. The name "Jesus" is an English transliteration of the Latin (Iēsus) which in turn comes from the Greek name Iesous (Ιησους). The name has also been translated into English as "Joshua." [39] Since most scholars hold that Jesus was an Aramaic-speaking Jew living in Galilee around 30 AD/CE, it is highly improbable that he had a Greek personal name. Further examination of the Septuagint finds that the Greek, in turn, is a transliteration of the Hebrew/Aramaic Yeshua (ישוע) (Yeshua—he will save) a contraction of Hebrew name Yehoshua (יהושוע Yeho—Yahweh [is] shua`—help/salvation, usually Romanized as Joshua). As a result, scholars believe that one of these was most likely the name that Jesus was known by during his lifetime by his peers. [40]

Christ (which is a title and not a part of his name) is an Anglicization of the Greek term for Messiah, and literally means "anointed one." Historians have debated what this title might have meant at the time Jesus lived; some historians have suggested that other titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament had meanings in the first century quite different from those meanings ascribed today. [41]

Sources on Jesus' life

Most Biblical scholars hold that the works describing Jesus were initially communicated by oral tradition, and were not committed to writing until several decades after Jesus' crucifixion. The earliest extant texts which refer to Jesus are Paul's letters, which are usually dated from the mid-1st century. Paul wrote that he only saw Jesus in visions, but that they were divine revelations and hence authoritative (Galatians 1:11–12). The earliest extant texts describing Jesus in any detail were the four New Testament Gospels. These texts, being part of the Biblical canon, have received much more analysis and acceptance from Christian sources than other possible sources for information on Jesus.

Many other early Christian texts detail events in Jesus' life and teachings, though they were not included when the Bible was canonized due to a belief that they were pseudepigraphical, not inspired, or written too long after his death, while others were suppressed because they contradicted Christian orthodoxy. It took several centuries before the list of what was and was not part of the Bible became finally fixed, and for much of the early period the Book of Revelation was not included while works like The Shepherd of Hermas were.

Books that were not included are known as the New Testament apocrypha. These include the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of logia—phrases and sayings attributed to Jesus without a narrative framework, only rediscovered in the 20th century. Other important apocryphal works that had a heavy influence in forming traditional Christian beliefs include the Apocalypse of Peter, Protevangelium of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and Acts of Peter. A number of Christian traditions (such as Veronica's veil and the Assumption of Mary) are found not in the canonical gospels but in these and other apocryphal works.

Possible earlier texts

Some texts with even earlier historical or mythological information on Jesus are speculated to have existed prior to the Gospels, [42] though none have been found. Based on the unusual similarities and differences between the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke, the first three canonical gospels—many Biblical scholars have suggested that oral tradition and logia (such as the Gospel of Thomas and the theoretical Q document) [43] probably played a strong role in initially passing down stories of Jesus, and may have inspired some of the Synoptic Gospels.

Specifically, many scholars believe that the Q document and the Gospel of Mark were the two sources used for the gospels of Matthew and Luke; however, other theories, such as the older Augustinian hypothesis, continue to hold sway with some Biblical scholars. Another theoretical document is the Signs Gospel, believed to have been a source for the Gospel of John. [44]

There are also early non-canonical gospels which may predate the canonical Gospels, although few surviving fragments have been found. Among these are the Unknown Berlin Gospel, the Oxyrhynchus Gospels, the Egerton Gospel, the Fayyum Fragment, the Dialogue of the Saviour, the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Gospel of the Hebrews, and the Gospel of the Nazarenes. [45]

Questions of reliability

As a result of perhaps a several-decade time gap between events and the writing of the Gospels where they are described, the accuracy of early texts describing the details of Jesus' life have been disputed by various parties. The authors of the Gospels are traditionally thought to have been witnesses to the events included. After the original oral stories were written down, they were transcribed, and later translated into other languages. Several Biblical historians have responded to claims of the unreliability of the gospel accounts by pointing out that historical documentation is often biased and second-hand, and frequently dates from several decades after the events described. For example, Paul Barnett pointed out that "scholars of ancient history have always recognized the 'subjectivity' factor in their available sources" and "have so few sources available compared to their modern counterparts that they will gladly seize whatever scraps of information that are at hand." He noted that modern history and ancient history are two separate disciplines, with differing methods of analysis and interpretation. [46]

The Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution brought skepticism regarding the historical accuracy of these texts. Although some critical scholars, including archaeologists, continue to use them as points of reference in the study of ancient Near Eastern history, [47] others have come to view the texts as cultural and literary documents, generally regarding them as part of the genre of literature called hagiography, an account of a holy person regarded as representing a moral and divine ideal. Hagiography has as its primary aim the glorification of the religion itself and of the example set by the perfect holy person represented as its central focus.

The views of intellectuals who entirely reject Jesus' historicity are summarized in the chapter on Jesus in Will Durant's Caesar and Christ. It is based on a reputed scarcity of eyewitness, a lack of direct archaeological evidence, the failure of certain ancient works to mention Jesus, and alleged similarities between early Christianity and contemporary mythology. [48]

Those who have a naturalistic view of history generally do not believe in divine intervention or miracles, such as the resurrection of Jesus mentioned by the Gospels. One method used to estimate the factual accuracy of stories in the gospels is known as the "criterion of embarrassment," which holds that stories about events with embarrassing aspects (such as the denial of Jesus by Peter, or the fleeing of Jesus' followers after his arrest) would likely not have been included if those accounts were fictional. [49]

Possible external influence

A few writers suggest that the gospel accounts of Jesus have little or no historical basis. [50] They see similarities between stories about Jesus and older myths of pagan god-men such as Mithras, Attis and Osiris-Dionysus. Their conjecture is that the pagan myths were adopted by some authors of early accounts of Jesus to form a syncretism with Christianity. Some popular writers such as Earl Doherty carry this even further and propose that the gospels are actually a reworking of non-Abrahamic myths and not based on a historical figure. [51] Some Christian authors, such as Justin Martyr and C.S. Lewis, suggest that the myths were created by ancient pagans who took prophetic attributes of the Messiah as taught in the Pentateuch and Prophets applied them to their particular deity.

Still other researchers disagree with the view that the stories about Jesus were adapted from older myths. In 1962, Judaic scholar Samuel Sandmel cautioned against this practice and adapted the term "Parallelomania" to describe it. "We might for our purposes define parallelomania as that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying a literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction." [52] In the book Reinventing Jesus, the authors put forth the position that "Only after 100 (AD/CE) did the mysteries begin to look very much like Christianity, precisely because their existence was threatened by this new religion. They had to compete to survive." [53] Other scholars, such as Michael Grant, also do not see significant similarity between the pagan myths and Christianity. Grant states in Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels that "Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths, of mythical gods seemed so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit." [54]

Religious perspectives

Christian views

Though Christian views of Jesus vary, it is possible to describe a general majority Christian view by examining the similarities between Catholic, Orthodox, and certain Protestant doctrines found in their catechetical or confessional texts. [55] This view, given below as the Principal view, does not encompass all groups which describe themselves as Christian, with other views immediately following.

Principal view

Christians predominately profess that Jesus is the Messiah (Greek: Christos; English: Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament, [56] who, through his life, death, and resurrection, restored humanity's communion with God in the blood of the New Covenant. His death on a cross is understood as the redemptive sacrifice: the source of humanity's salvation and the atonement for sin, [57] which had entered human history through the sin of Adam. [58]

They profess Jesus to be the only Son of God, the Lord, [59] and the eternal Word (which is a translation of the Greek Logos), [60] who became man in the incarnation, [61] so that those who believe in him might have eternal life. [62] They further hold that he was born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit in an event described as the miraculous virgin birth or Incarnation. [63] In his life Jesus proclaimed the "good news" (Middle English: gospel; Greek: euangelion) that the coming Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, [64] and established the Christian Church, which is the seed of the kingdom, into which Jesus calls the poor in spirit. [65] Jesus' actions at the Last Supper, where he instituted the Eucharist, are understood as central to communion with God and remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice. [66]

Christians also predominately profess that Jesus suffered death by crucifixion, [67] descended into Hell (variously understood as either the place of eternal punishment or place of the dead), [68] and rose bodily from the dead in the definitive miracle that foreshadows the resurrection of humanity at the end of time, [69] when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, resulting in election to Heaven or damnation to Hell. [70]

The nature of Jesus was theologically articulated and refined by a series of seven ecumenical councils, between 325 and 681 (see Christology). These councils described Jesus as one of the three divine hypostases or persons of the Holy Trinity: the Son is defined as constituting, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the single substance of the One God. [71] Furthermore, Jesus is defined to be one person with a fully human and a fully divine nature, a doctrine known as the Hypostatic union [72] (an articulation not accepted by Oriental Orthodoxy, see Nestorianism, Monophysitism and Miaphysitism). In defense of Jesus' divinity, some apologists argue that there is a trilemma, or three possibilities, resulting from Jesus' reported claims that he is the one God of Israel: [73] either he is truly God, a liar, or a lunatic—the latter two dismissed on the basis of Jesus' coherence. [74]

Alternative views

Current religious groups that do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity include the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah's Witnesses. Non-Trinitarian groups from history included Unitarians, and from antiquity, Arians.

Latter-day Saints theology maintains that the Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings, though all eternal and equally divine, who together constitute the Godhead. Though described as "one God in purpose," each play different roles: the Holy Ghost is a spirit without a physical body, the Father and Son possess distinct, perfected, bodies of flesh and bone. The Book of Mormon records that the resurrected Jesus visited and taught some of the inhabitants of the early Americas after he appeared to his apostles in Jerusalem. [75] Mormons also believe that an apostasy occurred after the death of Christ and his apostles. They believe that Christ and the Heavenly Father appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 as part of a series of heavenly visits to restore the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They believe Jesus (not the Father) is the same as Jehovah or Yahweh of the Old Testament.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jesus to be God's (or Jehovah's) son, but rather than being God himself, Jehovah's Witnesses believe he was the same divine created being as Michael the Archangel, and that he became a perfect human to come down to earth. [76] They view the term "Son of God" as an indication of Jesus' importance to the creator and his status as God's "only-begotten (unique) Son," [77] the "firstborn of all creation," [78] the one "of whom, and through whom, and to whom, are all things." [79] Lastly, they believe that Jesus died on a single-piece torture stake, not a cross. [80] Others believe that the one God, who revealed himself in the Old Testament as Jehovah, came to earth, taking on the human form of Jesus Christ. They believe Jesus is Jehovah, is the Holy Spirit, and is the one Person who is God. Examples of such churches today are Oneness Pentecostals and the New Church.

Other early views

Various early Christian groups and theologians held differing views of Jesus. The Ebionites, an early Jewish Christian community, believed that Jesus was the last of the prophets and the Messiah. They believed that Jesus was the natural-born son of Mary and Joseph, and thus they rejected the Virgin Birth. The Ebionites were adoptionists, believing that Jesus was not divine, but became the son of God at his baptism. They rejected the Epistles of Paul, believing that Jesus kept the Mosaic Law perfectly and wanted his followers to do the same. However, they felt that Jesus' crucifixion was the ultimate sacrifice, and thus animal sacrifices were no longer necessary. Therefore, some Ebionites were vegetarian and considered both Jesus and John the Baptist to have been vegetarians. [81]

In Gnosticism, Jesus is said to have brought the secret knowledge (gnosis) of the spiritual world necessary for salvation. [82]Their secret teachings were paths to gnosis, and not gnosis itself. While some Gnostics were docetics, other Gnostics believed that Jesus was a human who became possessed by the spirit of Christ during his baptism. [83] Many Gnostics believed that Christ was an Aeon sent by a higher deity than the evil demiurge who created the material world. Some Gnostics believed that Christ had a syzygy named Sophia. The Gnostics tended to interpret the books that were included in the New Testament as allegory, and some Gnostics interpreted Jesus himself as an allegory. The Gnostics also used a number of other texts that did not become part of the New Testament canon.

Marcionites were 2nd century Gentile followers of the Christian theologian Marcion of Sinope. They believed that Jesus rejected the Jewish Scriptures, or at least the parts that were incompatible with his teachings. [84] Seeing a stark contrast between the vengeful God of the Old Testament and the loving God of Jesus, Marcion came to the conclusion that the Jewish God and Jesus were two separate deities. Like some Gnostics, Marcionites saw the Jewish God as the evil creator of the world, and Jesus as the savior from the material world. They also believed Jesus was not human, but instead a completely divine spiritual being whose material body, and thus his crucifixion and death, were divine illusions. Marcion was the first known early Christian to have created a canon, which consisted of ten Pauline epistles, and a version of the Gospel of Luke (possibly without the first two chapters that are in modern versions, and without Jewish references), [85] and his treatise on the Antithesis between the Old and New Testaments. Marcionism was declared a heresy by proto-orthodox Christianity.

Montanists in the 2nd century and Sabellius in the 3rd century taught that the Trinity represented not three persons but a single person in three "modes."

Islamic views

In Islam, Jesus (known as Isa in Arabic, Arabic: عيسى), is considered one of God's most-beloved and important prophets and the Messiah. [86] He is one of five messengers (rusul), and one of the five "Resolute" prophets. The Hadith states that Jesus will return to the world in the flesh following Imam Mahdi to defeat the Dajjal (an Antichrist-like figure, translated as "Deceiver"), [87] though some Islamic scholars regard these traditions as unreliable and false."), [88]"), [89], [90]. As in the Christian nativity accounts, the 7th-century Qur'an holds that Jesus was born without a biological father to the virgin Mary, by the will of God (in Arabic, Allah). He is referred to as Isa ibn Maryam (English: Jesus son of Mary), a matronymic, as he had no biological father. [91] In Muslim traditions, Jesus lived a perfect life of nonviolence, showing kindness to humans and animals (similar to the other Islamic prophets), without material possessions, and abstaining from sin. [92] Islamic belief also holds that Jesus could perform miracles, but only by the will of God. [93]

Muslims, however, do not believe Jesus to have divine nature as God nor as the Son of God. The Qu'ran warns against believing that Jesus was divine. [94] Muslims believe that Jesus received a gospel from God called the Injil in Arabic that corresponds to the Christian New Testament, but that parts of it have been misinterpreted over time so that they no longer accurately represent God's message (See Tahrif). [95]

Muslims also do not believe in Jesus' sacrificial role, and the Qur'an, as commonly understood, states that Jesus was not killed on the cross. Islam also does not accept any human sacrifice for sin. [96] Regarding the crucifixion, the Qur'an is against the Jews who claimed "we slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God," and categorically states that "yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them." [97] [98] Some muslims writers like Ahmed Deedat have elaborated the Quranic verse in the light of the Bible [99]. However, the Muslim tradition completes the statement of the Qur'an: Some traditions say Christ was replaced by a double, and according to others it was Simon of Cyrene or one of the Apostles (Judas). [98] The denial of crucifixion is viewed as Jesus's [representing faith] triumph over his executioners [representing forces of evil and adversity]. [98]However certain Muslim scholars and some Ismaili commentators have interpreted the relevant verse differently: "the Jews intended to destroy the person of Jesus completely; in fact, they crucified only his nasut, his lahut remained alive" or that "The Qur'an is not here speaking about a man, righteous and wronged though he may be, but about the Word of God who was sent to earth and returned to God. Thus the denial of killing of Jesus is a denial of the power of men to vanquish and destroy the divine Word, which is for ever victorious." [98] [100]

Judaism's view

Judaism holds the idea of Jesus being God, or part of a Trinity, or a mediator to God, to be heresy.(Emunoth ve-Deoth, II:5) Judaism also holds that Jesus is not the Messiah, arguing that he had not fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh nor embodied the personal qualifications of the Messiah. [102]

The Mishneh Torah (an authoritative work of Jewish law) states:

Even Jesus the Nazarene who imagined that he would be Messiah and was killed by the court, was already prophesied by Daniel. So that it was said, "And the members of the outlaws of your nation would be carried to make a (prophetic) vision stand. And they stumbled" (Daniel 11.14). Because, is there a greater stumbling-block than this one? So that all of the prophets spoke that the Messiah redeems Israel, and saves them, and gathers their banished ones, and strengthens their commandments. And this one caused (nations) to destroy Israel by sword, and to scatter their remnant, and to humiliate them, and to exchange the Torah, and to make the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God. However, the thoughts of the Creator of the world—there is no force in a human to attain them because our ways are not God's ways, and our thoughts not God's thoughts. And all these things of Jesus the Nazarene, and of (Muhammad) the Ishmaelite who stood after him—there is no (purpose) but to straighten out the way for the King Messiah, and to restore all the world to serve God together. So that it is said, "Because then I will turn toward the nations (giving them) a clear lip, to call all of them in the name of God and to serve God (shoulder to shoulder as) one shoulder" (Zephaniah 3.9). Look how all the world already becomes full of the things of the Messiah, and the things of the Torah, and the things of the commandments! And these things spread among the far islands and among the many nations uncircumcised of heart. (Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12)[103] Reform Judaism, the modern progressive movement, states For us in the Jewish community anyone who claims that Jesus is their savior is no longer a Jew and is an apostate. (Contemporary American Reform Responsa, #68). [104]

According to Jewish tradition, there were no more prophets after 420 BC/BCE, Malachi being the last prophet, who lived centuries before Jesus. Judaism states that Jesus did not fulfill the requirements set by the Torah to prove that he was a prophet. Even if Jesus had produced such a sign that Judaism recognized, Judaism states that no prophet or dreamer can contradict the laws already stated in the Torah, which Judaism states Jesus did. (Devarim 13:1–5) [105]

Buddhist views

Buddhists' views of Jesus differ, since Jesus is not mentioned in any Buddhist text. Some Buddhists, including Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama [106] regard Jesus as a bodhisattva who dedicated his life to the welfare of human beings. Both Jesus and Buddha advocated radical alterations in the common religious practices of the day. There are occasional similarities in language, such as the use of the common metaphor of a line of blind men to refer to religious authorities with whom they disagreed (DN 13.15, Matthew 15:14). Some believe there is a particularly close affinity between Buddhism (or Eastern spiritual thought generally) and the doctrine of Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Thomas [107]

Hindu views

Hindu beliefs about Jesus vary. Many in the Surat Shabd Yoga tradition regard Jesus as a Satguru. Swami Vivekananda has praised Jesus and cited him as a source of strength and the epitome of perfection. [108] Paramahansa Yogananda taught that Jesus was the reincarnation of Elisha and a student of John the Baptist, the reincarnation of Elijah. [109] Mahatma Gandhi considered Jesus one of his main teachers and inspirations for nonviolent resistance, saying "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." [110]

Bahá'í views

The Bahá'í Faith considers Jesus, along with Muhammad, the Buddha, Krishna, and Zoroaster, and other messengers of the great religions of the world to be Manifestations of God (or prophets), with both human and divine stations. [111] In their divine station Bahá'ís view them in essential unity with each other and with God, and in their human station they view them as distinct individuals. [111] Thus, in the Bahá'í view, Jesus incarnates God's attributes, perfectly reflecting and expressing them. [111] However, the Bahá'í view rejects the belief that the essence of God was perfectly or completely contained in Jesus or any other human body, since Bahá'í scripture emphasizes the transcendence of the essence of God. [111] Jesus is believed to be the "Son of God" though not literally a biological son. The title "Son of God" in the Bahá'í view is seen as entirely spiritual and shows the close relationship between him and God. [112] Bahá'ís accept Jesus as the Messiah foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. They believe though that their messenger, Baha'u'llah is the symbolic return of Christ expected during the last days. [113] In the Bahá'í view religion is progressively revealed by God through messengers/prophets, and the messengers from God are all the spiritual return of the messengers before them. [113]

Manichaeism views

Manichaeism regards Jesus as a deceiving prophet (mšiha kdaba) of the false Jewish god of the Old Testament, Adonai, [114] and an opponent of the good prophet John the Baptist, who is considered a great teacher in Manichaeism.

Other views

The New Age movement entertains a wide variety of views on Jesus. Some New Age practitioners (such as the creators of A Course In Miracles) claim to go so far as to trance-channel his spirit. However, the New Age movement generally teaches that Christhood is something that all may attain.

Many writers emphasize Jesus' moral teachings. Garry Wills argues that Jesus' ethics are distinct from those usually taught by Christianity.[115] The Jesus Seminar [116] portrays Jesus as an itinerant preacher (Matthew 4:23), who taught peace (Matthew 5:9) and love (Matthew 5:44), rights for women (Luke 10:42) and respect for children (Matthew 19:14), and who spoke out against the hypocrisy of religious leaders (Luke 13:15) and the rich (Matthew 19:24). Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers that many consider to have been a deist, created a "Jefferson Bible" for the Indians entitled "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" that included only Jesus' ethical teachings.

Philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell saw Jesus' teachings and values as surpassed by other philosophers; Russell writes 'I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects.' [117] Friedrich Nietzsche saw Socrates and Jesus as foundational to Western culture and criticized them both. He considered Jesus' concern for the weak to be a reversal of noble morality and accused Christianity of spreading the concept of equal rights for all (which he despised). [118]


According to most Christian interpretations of the Bible, the theme of Jesus' teachings was that of repentance, unconditional love,. [119] forgiveness of sin, grace, and the coming of the Kingdom of God. [120] Jesus extensively trained disciples who, after his death, spread his teachings. Within a few decades his followers comprised a religion clearly distinct from Judaism. Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire under a version known as Nicene Christianity and became the state religion under Constantine the Great. Over the centuries, it spread to most of Europe, and around the world.

Jesus has been drawn, painted, sculpted despite nobody knowing what he looked like, and portrayed on stage and in films in many different ways, both serious and humorous. The figure of Jesus features prominently in art and literature. A number of popular novels, such as The Da Vinci Code, have also portrayed various ideas about Jesus, and a number of films, such as The Passion of the Christ, have portrayed his life, death, and resurrection. Many of the sayings attributed to Jesus have become part of the culture of Western civilization. There are many items purported to be relics of Jesus, of which the most famous are the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo.

Other legacies include a view of God as more lovingly parental, merciful, and more forgiving, and the growth of a belief in a blissful afterlife and in the resurrection of the dead. His teaching promoted the value of those who had commonly been regarded as inferior: women, the poor, ethnic outsiders, children, prostitutes, the sick, prisoners, etc. For over a thousand years, countless hospitals, orphanages, and schools have been founded explicitly in Jesus' name. Jesus and his message have been interpreted, explained and understood by many people. Jesus has been explained notably by Paul of Tarsus, the Church Fathers, including Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and more recently by C.S. Lewis and Pope John Paul II. Thomas Jefferson considered Jesus' teaching to be "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man." [121] For some Jews, the legacy of Jesus has been a history of Christian antisemitism, [122] although in the wake of the Holocaust many Christian groups have gone to considerable lengths to reconcile with Jews and to promote interfaith dialog and mutual respect. For others, Christianity has often been linked to European colonialism (see British Empire, Portuguese Empire, Spanish Empire, French colonial empire, Dutch colonial empire).[123] Conversely, some have argued that through Bartolomé de las Casas defense of the indigenous inhabitants of Spain's New World empire, one of the legacies of Jesus has been the notion of universal human rights.

See also


  • Allison, Dale. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999. ISBN 0–8006–3144–7
  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997. ISBN 0–385–24767–2
  • Cohen, Shaye J.D. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988. ISBN 0–664–25017–3
  • Cohen, Shaye J.D. The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 0–520–22693–3
  • Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1993. ISBN 0–06–061629–6
  • "Who Killed Jesus?," 1995. ISBN 0–06–061480–3
  • Guy Davenport and Benjamin Urrutia. The Logia of Yeshua; The Sayings of Jesus. Washington, DC: 1996. ISBN 1–887178–70–8
  • De La Potterie, Ignace. "The Hour of Jesus." New York: Alba House, 1989.
  • Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944. ISBN 0–671–11500–6
  • Ehrman, Bart. The Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0–19–514183–0
  • Ehrman, Bart. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0–19–515462–2
  • Fredriksen, Paula. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity. New York: Vintage, 2000. ISBN 0–679–76746–0
  • Fredriksen, Paula. From Jesus to Christ. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. ISBN 0–300–04864–5
  • Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology, revised ed. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1–56563–143–9.
  • Fuller, Reginald H. The Foundations of New Testament Christology. New York: Scribners, 1965. ISBN 022717075X
  • Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. New York: Anchor Doubleday,
    • v. 1. The Roots of the Problem and the Person, 1991. ISBN 0–385–26425–9
    • v. 2. Mentor, Message, and Miracles, 1994. ISBN 0–385–46992–6
    • v. 3. Companions and Competitors, 2001. ISBN 0–385–46993–4
  • O'Collins, Gerald. Interpreting Jesus. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1983.
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav. Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN 0–300–07987–7
  • Robinson, John A. T. Redating the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001 (original 1977). ISBN 1–57910–527–0.
  • Sanders, E.P. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin, 1996. ISBN 0–14–014499–4
  • Sanders, E.P. Jesus and Judaism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1987. ISBN 0–8006–2061–5
  • Vermes, Geza. Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1981. ISBN 0–8006–1443–7
  • Vermes, Geza. The Religion of Jesus the Jew. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993. ISBN 0–8006–2797–0
  • Vermes, Geza. Jesus in his Jewish Context. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003. ISBN 0–8006–3623–6
  • Wilson, A.N. Jesus. London: Pimlico, 2003. ISBN 0–7126–0697–1
  • Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997. ISBN 0–8006–2682–6
  • Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003. ISBN 0–8006–2679–6

Original Source

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