The divinity of Jesus came under fire recently, as CNN’s Don Lemon demonstrated his obtuse position on the subject in an interview with colleague Chris Cuomo.
“Jesus Christ, if that’s who you believe in, Jesus Christ, admittedly was not perfect when he was here on this earth,” Lemon said.
The statement immediately faced backlash from pastors, theologians, and historians alike — and rightfully so. As one can imagine, Lemon’s remarks are beyond irreconcilable with Christian doctrine, but the greater challenge for Lemon is that they are also irreconcilable with historical evidence.
To be clear, I don’t have any malice toward Lemon for his remarks — in fact, I’m praying for his salvation. He’s welcome to his opinions, as misguided and unfounded as they are. But we must understand that such a position, above all, is dismissive — like someone who dismisses all science and logic to argue that the earth is flat. In regard to the question of Jesus’ divinity, the burden of proof lies not with the Christian, as history, reason, and personal testimony stand as an immovable mountain of support for the faith, but rather it is with the skeptic, who must consciously decide if they will ignore thousands of years of attempts to discredit the Son of Man that have all come up empty.
Whereas the New Testament is often thought of as a single book, it is actually made up of 27 different books from at least eight unique authors. This is important, because to discount the teachings of the Bible, such as the sinlessness of Jesus, is not just to consider one historical author or text unreliable, but demands that we disregard nearly 10 distinct eye-witnesses that all hold to the same testimony — that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, and demonstrated Himself to be the Son of God.
The Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, who presided over the trial of Jesus, unable to find any wrongdoing in Christ, asked of the crowd calling for Jesus’ death, “Why? What crime has he committed?” Likewise, it’s recorded in original source manuscripts that Pilate’s own wife sent a message to Pilate, warning him, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man,” which caused Pilate to “wash his hands” of the death of Jesus, symbolically placing all responsibility for His execution back onto the Jewish leaders.
Paul, a contemporary of Jesus who violently persecuted the early Christians until he had a miraculous encounter with Jesus himself, pleaded with his followers, “Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Paul’s first-hand account claiming Jesus’ sinlessness and perfection, especially considering his former religious stance against Christianity, is more than historically significant, it’s virtually indisputable.
But perhaps even more convincing, are references to Jesus’ divinity and perfection found outside of scripture. Flavius Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, records of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, “He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those who loved him at 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.”
Born only a couple years after Jesus’ death, the first century Christian leader, Clement of Rome, referring to the innocence of Jesus wrote, “Our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God, His body for our bodies, and His soul for our souls.” Another first century believer, Ignatius of Antioch, offering a defense of the divine innocence of Jesus said, “Observe those who hold erroneous opinions … because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His loving-kindness raised from the dead.” Ignatius, who shortly after penning these words was killed in a Roman amphitheater for his faith in Christ, added, “Either believe in the [innocent] Blood of Christ, or else face damnation.”
Early church leader and theologian, Athanasius of Alexandria, confirming the divinity of Christ, wrote sometime before 319 A.D., “You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and high, has been made manifest in bodily form. … He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.”
Such convincing historical proof is what led the great 20th century theologian C.S. Lewis to offer the infamous defense of Jesus’ divinity in “Mere Christianity”:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
According to Lewis, one can call Jesus a liar, one can call him a lunatic, or one can call him Lord, but we don’t have the liberty of choosing some blend of the three. It’s not only maligns history, for Lewis, it was flat out illogical. More than just a point of theology, Christianity hinges on the sinlessness of Jesus, that is “God in the flesh.” If Jesus was not sinless, then he wasn’t God. And if he wasn’t God, then his sacrifice on the cross fails to provide for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of those who believe. But if the scriptures are accurate, and the vast and diverse first hand accounts are true, then all people must consider what to make of the carpenter’s son.