The Self-Understanding of Jesus

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Michael Gleghorn — You might be surprised to learn that today many New Testament scholars don't believe that the historical Jesus ever claimed to be the Son of God, the Lord, or even the Messiah.{1} But if that's the case, how do they explain the presence of such claims in the Gospels? They believe the Gospel writers put them there! The actual Jesus of history never made such exalted claims for himself. It was the early church that started all that business.

Is this true? What are we to make of all this? Let's begin with a deceptively simple question: How did the early church come to believe inóand even worshipóJesus as both Lord and Messiah, if he never actually claimed such titles for himself? Just think for a moment about how strange this would be. Jesus' earliest followers were Jews. They firmly believed that there is only one God. And yet, shortly after his crucifixion, they began worshiping Jesus as God! As Dr. William Lane Craig asks, "How does one explain this worship by monotheistic Jews of one of their countrymen as God incarnate, apart from the claims of Jesus himself?"{2} In other words, if Jesus never made such exalted claims for himself, then why would his earliest followers do so? After all, on the surface such claims not only seem blasphemous, they also appear to contradict the deeply held Jewish conviction that there is only one God.

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"I wrote this program after becoming fascinated with the topic of implicit Christology, an interest I acquired after reading some of the work of Bill Craig and Ben Witherington on the subject. Although today there is something of a renewed scholarly interest in the explicit claims of Jesus in the Gospels, nevertheless, we should never forget that even His more veiled claims reveal that He thought of Himself as very much more than just another great prophet or teacher."

Michael is a research associate with Probe Ministries. After earning a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University and a Th.M. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, he is back at DTS pursuing more suffering a Ph.D. in theology. The joy of Michael's life is his wife Hannah and their daughter.

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