Christian scholars have always tried to arrive at an acceptable formula for Jesus as God and man, - and the most widely accepted formula is the Nicene Creed. Here is what it says about Jesus:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end…(The Nicene Creed).
The very names "Christian" and "Christianity" were never used by Jesus for his religion.
The titles do not tell us about the authors, but only about the source according to early church tradition. In other words, they are the gospels "according to", and not necessarily "written by" their putative authors (Cate).
For instance, we read the following in the introduction to Mark's Gospel in the New American Bible:
Although the book is anonymous, apart from the ancient heading "According to Mark" in manuscripts, it has traditionally been assigned to John Mark, in whose mother's house (at Jerusalem) Christians assembled (Acts 12:12). Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution and when destruction loomed over Jerusalem….Modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria, and perhaps shortly after the year 70 (New American Bible).
Furthermore, the Biblical scholar Frederick Fyvie Bruce (1910-1990) reports that according to a majority of English scholars, the Gospel of Mark was written about 65 CE, Luke around 80-85 CE, Matthew around 85-90 CE, and John around 85-90 CE (Bruce). The foregoing means that the earliest gospel was Mark, and it was written about three decades after the disappearance of Jesus from the earth. In fact, the very names "Christian" and "Christianity" were never used by Jesus for his religion. We read in Acts:
… And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26, New International Version).
"The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" because until this time, the religion of Jesus had been looked upon as a sect of Judaism, like that of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The early believers were Jews. They were circumcised, they kept the Mosaic feasts, holy days, rituals and ceremonies, and worshipped in the same synagogues Jews had been using.
But at Antioch, something new and totally different happened. The new converts there were not Jews, but Gentiles who had no background in Judaism and no relationship to the Mosaic Law.
The only Jesus most people want is the mythic one. They don't want the real Jesus.
That Jesus was raised a Jew is indicated by the gospel narrative of his Jewish genealogy. Furthermore, he was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), according to the Jewish tradition. He bore a common Jewish name, Yeshua, which was the fifth most common Jewish name. We are told that four out of the 28 Jewish High-Priests in Jesus' time were called Yeshua.
After his birth, Jesus was presented to the Lord in the Jerusalem temple (Luke 2:22; Deuteronomy 18:4; Exodus 13:2, 12, 15) according to Mary's period of uncleanness (Leviticus 12:2-8). A sacrifice was offered for him — a pair of doves and two young pigeons — which indicated that his family was not wealthy (Leviticus 12:2, 6, 8; Luke 2:22-24). Thus, Jesus was raised according to the Mosaic Law (Luke 2:39).
It is said that Jesus and his family went up to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover, and he attended synagogue every Sabbath (Luke 4:16). In tithing, fasting, and almsgiving he was totally Jewish, and "argued that the crowds and his disciples should do as the scribes and Pharisees said" (Went).
Robert Funk, in his book The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: The Five Gospels, says that today "the only Jesus most people want is the mythic one. They don't want the real Jesus. They want the one they can worship. The cultic Jesus" (qtd. in Dart).
Christians in general are content with the Jesus they have come to worship, even if the figure is a hugely exaggerated or unreal one. Eminent modern theologians like Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Bultmann believed that the Christian faith could not depend on the historical Jesus since "we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus" (Bultmann 2).
In Matthew, we see Jesus referring to himself as a prophet:
Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor" (Matthew 13:54-57, New International Version).
The above passage establishes that Jesus was not just a Jew in every respect, but a Jewish prophet as well.
The only reference to Jesus by a non-Christian historian at that time is by Flavius Josephus (37-100 CE). In his famous work, The Antiquities of the Jews, he writes about John the Baptist's teachings at great length, but tells us very little about Jesus and his ministry.
This is what Josephus writes about Jesus:
"Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Josephus 18:64).
The three main camps of scholars who wrote about the above passage by Josephus maintain any one of the following positions:
1) That the passage is entirely authentic;
2) That it is entirely a Christian forgery;
3) That it was originally authentic but came to include Christian interpolations (Maier).
A number of modern scholars reject the Josephus passage as a forgery.
In The Quest for the Historical Jesus, the contribution of Albert Schweitzer is significant. According to him, "Jesus was an apocalyptic, eschatological Jewish Messiah figure, whose message of total commitment, while bizarre in its details, has had a profound effect on all humanity and continues to inspire today" (Longenecker).
From the foregoing paragraphs, it is evident that the real Jesus who lived in history was quite different from the "Son of God" worshipped by the Christians of today.
Indeed the Jesus of history, as reconstructed by historians on the basis of evidences culled from authentic sources, has more to do with the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary introduced by the Quran than with the crucified god of Christian mythology.
Bruce, F. F. New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.
Bultmann,Rudolf. Jesus and the Word.New York: Scribner, 1934.
Cate, Jeff. Christian Sources for the Life of Jesus. California Baptist University, 2010. Accessed 5 Jan. 2010.
Dart, John. "Two Views of What Jesus Really Said". Los Angeles Times, 24 February 1994.
Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.Trans. William Whiston. 1737.
Longenecker, Richard. The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith: Some Contemporary Reflections.McMaster University, 1999. Accessed 5 Jan. 2010.
Maier, Paul. "Josephus on Jesus." Josephus: The Essential Works. Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1994. Accessed 5 Jan. 2010.
New American Bible. Mark: Introduction. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002. Accessed 5 Jan. 2010.
The Nicene Creed, Accessed 10 Jan. 2010
Went, Jonathan. Jesus the Jew. Leadership University, 1998. Accessed 5 Jan. 2010.