Recently I was surprised to find a statement by one of my favorite New Testament scholars that I disapproved of. I mean it’s not as if I think this guy is perfect. I know a few things I would love to see him change in his theology and biblical understanding. But I hadn’t realized in my prior reading of this scholar that he was a little weak on the idea of Yeshua’s self-awareness. That led me to a few musings (hmm, seems appropriate for this blog).
You will hear a lot in books, magazine articles, and TV documentaries that Yeshua did not claim to be Messiah or to be divine. After all, I guess it is hard for people to imagine a guy who walked around his whole life knowing he was Messiah and God in the flesh. Can you get your mind around the idea of Yeshua being aware of his divinity and still being a mentally-balanced, healthy person?
The topic has been all the more on my mind because of several conversations I am having with people considering Yeshua or considering abandoning Yeshua. I think it matters what we do with Yeshua.
But the ultimate reason for this message and for my meditation on Yeshua’s self-awareness was a disappointment. There is a scholar that I read and reread often. I appreciate the way he brings clear historical thinking and close attention to the Jewish sources of Yeshua’s time to bear on the question of who Yeshua was and what he purposed to do.
This scholar is a great one for helping the skeptical to see that the Yeshua of the gospels is historically believable. So I was a little disappointed when this scholar was a little noncommittal on this question. The scholar I am talking about is N.T. Wright. He started well, by observing that Yeshua did things only God can do. Then he said:
Why should such a person, a good first-century monotheist, not also come to hold the strange and risky belief that the one true God, the God of Israel, was somehow present and active in him and even as him? (Who Was Jesus? p.103)
That sounds like Yeshua grew into an awareness of who he was. That sounds like Yeshua was uncertain. Is it so hard to believe that Yeshua knew he was divine, that he was Messiah? Does historical accuracy or intellectual rigor demand that we view Yeshua as completely or partially unaware of his divinity and Messiahship?
Now, before I answer that, let me suggest to you some reasons why many scholars would have trouble believing in a self-aware Yeshua:
1. Our primary sources about Yeshua are the four gospels written later and, many scholars think, they reflect the later belief of the church and may present Yeshua in ways he never saw himself. Perhaps, some would say, the concepts of Messiahship and divinity were put on Yeshua by later generations and not by himself.
2. The concept of Messiah in Yeshua’s time, many scholars say, was vague and not often referred to, but was developed more by the church of the gospels than by Jews in Yeshua’s time. How could Yeshua think of himself as Messiah if there was no clear idea of Messiah in his day?
3. Finally, I think many scholars simply believe it is not possible to be human, believe you are divine, and to be sane. How can a man really be a man and think he is God?
Well, those arguments are substantial. Have we been sold a view of Yeshua that is anachronistic — reading late first century ideas back into the early first century? Is our view of Yeshua as the God-man and Messiah inaccurate or simplistic?
More to come tomorrow . . .