What if Jesus Was ‘Just a Man’?

Jesus has been the most important influence on me: more than my parents, more than any other person. In terms of an approach to life I pretty much raised myself. The way I live my life is governed by my understanding of Jesus’s message to the world. I have spent more time pondering that part of my life than any other single thing — and, in addition to always being a working person, I spent ten years in college and graduate schools and have developed an original (strictly rational) account of justice with its implications for individuals, the political process, and the economy. I’m just saying: I have spent a lot of time on the spiritual part of life. Over time my understanding of that message has evolved, but at its core it has remained constant.

One thing I have thought about a lot is the possibility that Jesus was not born of a virgin, was not miraculously conceived by God. One explanation for Jesus’s time as a prophet is that he decided that one day he would simply start walking, with nothing but his faith in God to sustain him — or not — and see what would happen.

Needless to say, to have gotten to that point Jesus would have to have been a tremendously spiritual person — a mystic, really: someone who is totally absorbed in the spiritual realm. He would have certainly come to some conclusion — probably had some revelation about God and God’s desires for people, particularly how we should regard God and how we should act towards one another. With nothing but a message to share, he simply started walking and sharing it with whoever would listen, with no idea what the ultimate outcome would be, accepting that whatever did happen would be in accordance with the will of God. Surely that is a Jesus worthy of being called the Son of God.

It has occurred to me that the Christian church has made a mistake stressing the supernatural. It’s not that the supernatural compromises, much less corrupts the message of Jesus, but it does diffuse the message of Jesus as I understand it.

The message is that it all comes down to how we treat one another in this world. That reveals where we are at spiritually. Where we are at spiritually reveals whether we are in God’s Kingdom or not. Whether we are already in God’s kingdom or not determines whether we will spend eternity in it or not. To be sure, forgiveness for shortcomings, provided our hearts are in the right place, is vitally important — but that, too, is dependent on whether we have forgiven others their “trespasses against us.” Any teaching or preaching other than that does nothing, as far as I can tell, to help people spiritually.

I suppose that in the contest for adherents with other religions the supernatural had to be stressed, especially given the level of knowledge about this world that existed back when. Increases in knowledge about this world can decrease credulity with regard to the supernatural. Continuing to stress the supernatural in the face of those increases in knowledge can put adherents of religions in a bind that is more stressful the more the supernatural is stressed in their religion: they can feel forced to abandon rationality itself for the sake of their faith. It can get to the point that rationality — a capacity given to us by God according to their beliefs — is seen as being the realm of the Devil.

That is not a recipe for dealing well with the exigencies of our material existence. For people in that religious place, though, suffering as a result of faith rather than using rationality to solve problems facing humanity that humans have created is doing what God would have them do. It is pleasing to God.

Of course, the Bible tells us that Jesus was miraculously born of a (married) virgin. That’s the ‘Gospel truth’. There is talk in the Christian faith about treating other people, even enemies, ‘as we should’, but the focus is on not only accepting, but making the supernatural divinity of Jesus the only thing that really matters. The more fundamentalist a version of Christianity is, the more that kind of ‘faith’ is stressed. Talk of acts can actually be condemned: any thought of getting to Heaven via “acts” is at best misguided and at worst the fundamentalist Christian version of ‘virtue signaling’ — with the signaler’s eternal soul at risk.

It has to be recognized that if Jesus was just a man (at least when he started his walk with God), that does open up the possibility of fallibility. Jesus could have been wrong in some or even all of his message. Personally, I am undecided about whether God ever really does intervene in this world. I have doubts about the concept of God as ‘Heavenly Father’. For me, it’s not so much the gender thing as the nature of the relationship: I sincerely wonder whether God is that concerned about any particular thing that transpires in material existence. Does God want us to treat each other well? I definitely believe that — but the strictly rational ethic of justice I have developed has more absolute prohibitions on conduct among people than are in the Ten Commandments.

For me, Jesus’s death is a powerful testament to his message. All of the other figureheads of major religions were widely revered in their lifetimes. Most lived long lives and died peacefully. Muhammed went to Heaven without even dying first. Jesus was beaten, humiliated, and tortured then nailed to a cross and hung up to die. As far as I am concerned, enough said. Jesus absolutely, positively died as the Son of God.

Such thoughts as I have expressed here would definitely be anathema for any established Christian religion. In short, I don’t see any established Christian denomination seriously downplaying the supernatural divinity of Jesus, much less abandoning it.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Stephen Yearwood

Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice