The person of Jesus Christ – “Jesus was nothing more than a teacher of wisdom.” Discuss. (40 marks)

Colour code: 

  • Blue – Your argument  
  • Red – Argument against
  • Orange – Critical analysis
  • Purple – Scholars/ key people

Jesus Christ is the central figure of Christianity and is believed to be the Son of God. This claim, through the death and resurrection, makes Jesus more than just a prophet or teacher. His death is believed to be the ultimate act of atonement which brought salvation to the those who seek it. The oral teachings of the aforementioned belief has been shared since the death of Jesus; and in countries where Christianity was spread, it has been accepted by billions of people. However, during the enlightenment period onward, there has been a change of approach to the way which the Bible is interpreted; as well as the way which people critically analyse beliefs which cannot be empirically verified. As a result, many Christians and others have come to determine that Jesus was not the person that is represented in the gospels, but rather, can only be deemed to be a teacher of wisdom. Jesus might have had an insight into the divine, but not God himself. I will be arguing from this perspective while using the views of Ludwig Wittgenstein, David Hume, John Hick and examples from scripture and Christian tradition.

In favour of the statement, Ludwig Wittgenstein (logician and philosopher) showed an admiration of Jesus as a teacher of parables and morality. Jesus should be seen as an individual who lived an authentic existence and stood by his philosophy until his death. While he was in Jerusalem, he spoke out against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, even though it put him in comprising positions.  Jesus could have also found a way out of his persecution but accepted his fate of Crucifixion by the Roman authorities. This view of Jesus gives us an example of a life that is worth learning from; one that can give us insights into moral action and intention. What it cannot offer is a divine Jesus who performed miracles and atoned the world of its sins. 

However, many Christians would argue that scripture has misinterpreted. Jesus, in all four gospels, performs miracles which show him to be far more than a teacher of wisdom. In Mark chapter 6, Jesus walks on water and stops the storm which the disciples fear. Another example comes from John 6 where Jesus feeds a crowd of 5000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. With both of these cases there were witnesses. Richard Swinburne addresses sceptics of these accounts by proposing the principles of credulity and testimony. The former states that it is normal to trust our senses. If we see something irregular we shouldn’t immediately dismiss it on the basis we wouldn’t dismiss everything else we see. The latter trusts that other people do not often lie about their experiences and therefore we should accept their testimony unless compelling evidence is offered to the contrary. 

A philosopher who would have attested to this compelling evidence is David Hume. Hume stipulated that people who have claimed to have experienced miracles are likely to be religious fanatics who have a confirmation bias. He would also state that conflicting miracle claims leave religious beliefs, founded upon the events, untenable. For example, Christians might argue that the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection is true but Muslims would not. Muslims, on the other hand, would claim the revelation of the Qur’an through the angel Jibril happened but Christians would not. Neither religion would propose that they are both correct, so one must be wrong. Hume’s approach is to say that one is no more valid than the other and it is more likely that both are incorrect. 

A further argument which presents Jesus as a teacher of wisdom is John Hick’s proposal of “gifts to the world.” Hick compares figures like Jesus, Muhammad and the Buddha; stating they all have a connection to the divine. He does not put an emphasis on the supernatural elements of the gospels. Instead he says these parts should be interpreted as symbolism. The pluralism that Hick is suggesting means that Jesus is no more significant to other religious figures of a similar light. Therefore, Jesus must be considered a teacher of wisdom, rather than God.

Conversely, Christian tradition would reject religious pluralism and the opinion that Jesus was a gift to the world in the same vein as other leaders. The Nicene creed, developed in 325 claimed that Jesus was homoousios (of the same substance) with God:”begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” This declaration of faith established the Trinity as it is now believed. If Jesus is of the same substance to the Father, and was present as the logos at the start of existence, it confirms Jesus an ultimate source of religious authority. When the creed is accepted, Jesus must be more than a teacher of wisdom. 

Finally, the validity of the Nicene creed can be brought into question. The circumstances which it was produced could lead some to take it as fallacious. There was arguably an agenda to silence Christians who had began to develop their own understanding of the nature of Jesus. The Arian belief stated Jesus was the most important creation of God the Father, but not of the same substance. These claims could lessen the authority of Jesus and therefore were condemned. There is also the problem of falsification. The assertions made in the Nicene creed cannot be proven false nor true, and consequently,  it makes any discussion on its truthfulness somewhat fruitless. 

To conclude, the matter of Jesus being more than a teacher of wisdom is decided on the basis of faith. The evidence presented for the divine Jesus is arguably too difficult to accept on a purely philosophical or historical basis. Whereas, Jesus of Nazareth as a teacher of wisdom remains plausible even if one is not a Christian or if the gospels are interpreted as symbolism.

Word count: 958

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