straight to the point – from different points of view

Who exactly was Jesus Christ? by Kevin Baldeosingh

Who exactly was Jesus Christ? by Kevin Baldeosingh

As usual when Christmas approaches, there are calls to put “Christ” back in Christmas.
But who, exactly, was Jesus Christ?
For most Christians, this is not even a question worth asking. For Bible scholars, however, the question of who Jesus was and what he said has always been problematic.
After all, there aren’t any documents written in his own hand, or copies of any such documents, or even documents about him written by any of his contemporaries. Theologian Robert M Price in his book Killing History writes about “the very good possibility that, first, the gospels are compilations of fiction and legend and, second, that one evangelist seems to have edited and rewritten his predecessors with considerable freedom”.
Even Christmas itself didn’t start off as a celebration of Jesus.
As historian Robin Lane Fox writes in his book The Unauthorised Version: “Not until the mid-fourth century AD are Christians known to have been celebrating Christmas on 25 December. Previously, the date had marked a pagan festival, the birth of the sun god at the winter solstice…Christmas, therefore, settled down in our calendar not through certainty but through conflict, in a battle of festivals between the Christians and the pagan majority among whom they lived.”
Two hundred years after Jesus’s death, Fox notes, some Christians argued that he had been born in November, others in April or May.
So the basic facts about Christmas are already wrong.
But what about the message? The most common Christmas slogan is “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men”—a quote taken from Luke 2:14 in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible which goes “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”.
However, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), which is considered more accurate by Bible scholars, translates this verse as “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours”.
This changes the “Christmas” message from a universal one to a blessing directed only toward those chosen by God. (See Box for listing of other discrepancies between the accounts of Jesus’s birth in Matthew and Luke.)
Moreover, Jesus himself declares in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Bible expert Bart Ehrman in his book Misquoting Jesus notes the difference in the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels. In the Gospel according to Mark, Ehrman writes, “Jesus does not come off as the meek-and-mild, soft-featured, good shepherd of the stained-glass window. Mark begins his Gospel by portraying Jesus as a physically and charismatically powerful authority figure who is not to be messed with…What is striking in these stories is that Jesus’s evident anger erupts when someone doubts his willingness, ability, or divine authority to heal.”
As an illustration, Ehrman cites Mark 1:41, where Jesus heals a leper.
“The surviving manuscripts preserve verse 4:1 in two different forms,” he explains. Most versions of the Bibles record Jesus as moved with compassion or pity, but original manuscripts also have versions in which Jesus becomes angry.
“If Christian readers today were given the choice between these two readings, no doubt almost everyone would choose the one more commonly attested in our manuscripts: Jesus felt pity for this man, and so he healed him,” Ehrman writes. However, he argues that the angry text is more likely to be the original, partly because scribes tended to change texts so they would be easy to understand, but also because there are no Greek manuscripts with this passage until the end of the fourth century, which is 300 years after the original manuscript was written. And even the compassion passage now used in Bibles says that, after healing the leper, Jesus immediately sent him away after “straitly charged him” (KJV) or “sternly warning him” (NRSV), which implies some sort of anger.
Ehrman notes that in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus becomes angry on several occasions, and Luke and Matthew probably used Mark as the main source for their own Gospels. But, in each instance, Matthew and Luke changed their accounts to omit Jesus’s anger. “In sum, Matthew and Luke have no qualms about describing Jesus as compassionate, but they never describe him as angry. Whenever one of their sources (Mark) did so, they both independently rewrote the term out of their stories.”
Family is also the focus of the Christmas season, particularly children.
But in Luke 14:25, Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” On the other hand, in Matt. 19:13-14, Jesus blesses children and says “it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
But the main criticism of Christmas is that the celebration has become materialistic rather than spiritual. So what is Jesus’s view on the love of things? In the same scene with the children, Matthew tells the story of a rich young man who came to ask Jesus how to have eternal life. Jesus recites the commandments to him—not to murder, steal, horn, and so on, and the young man says, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” And Jesus answers, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
Few of the people who call for Christ to be put back in Christmas, however, follow this advice.

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