Was Jesus Always Considered Divine?

In today’s post, we’ll look at just when the early Christians thought Jesus became Divine. Was he already Divine while he was alive? Or did he become Divine after he was resurrected? Or something else entirely? We admit that this borders on a debate about the number of angels on the head of a pin, but we’ll try to make it interesting.

  •  Didn’t everyone who followed Jesus think he was the son of God? Maybe some did. But many merely thought that Jesus was a very good teacher, and a good man. But they did not think he was a direct incarnation of God.
  • What does Jesus say about himself in the Gospels? This is kinda complicated because the Gospels were not eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, and were written several decades after Jesus’ death. We acknowledge that certain passages in the Gospels indicate that Jesus identified himself as one with God, or maybe even Divine. But Biblical scholars such as Bart Ehrman say it is not clear whether Jesus actually made these statements. Dr. Ehrman posits that Jesus probably thought he was a regular guy during his lifetime, but he was going to return at the end of times (which was supposed to be really really soon) as the Divine Messiah. 
  • What did the disciples think? When Jesus was crucified, his disciples were totally shocked. This was not how it was supposed to turn out. But at some point (and this is where things get really murky), the early followers regained hope when some of them claimed they had seen Jesus and that he was alive again.  Word spread. And some (all?) of his followers believed it. According to Dr. Ehrman, the story of the resurrection meant that Jesus had really been favored by God after all.
    • But why was he not there to talk to people about it (except for the random visions)? More murkiness. The story evolved over time that it was because Jesus had gone to heaven to be with God. 

Soooo, it looks like in the period right after Jesus’ death, most of his followers had the idea that a) Jesus was human while he was living here on earth, but b) became a Divine being after his death and resurrection. This way of thinking evolved over the centuries, amid years of Roman persecution, a split from Judaism, and in-fighting among various Christian sects. Eventually we get to the Council in Nicaea in 325 CE, where the majority vote was that Jesus had always been the Divine Son of God, even during his life on earth. Period. No further debate. Moving on.

Were the 12 Disciples That Stupid?

You ever notice how the gospels describe the 12 disciples in less than glamorous terms? Mark is especially hard on these guys. Let’s take a look.

  • Jesus rebukes them repeatedly. The 12 spend aN awful lot of time with Jesus, and yet they never quite get it. All the gospels regularly describe them as “fearful,” “confused,” and “unbelieving. But Mark even adds editorial comments at the end of certain stories, saying regularly, “but the disciples did not understand what this meant.” 
    • Here’s a good example. There are actually two stories in Mark about Jesus feeding large groups of people (no metaphysical rabbit trails this week on the meaning of 5,000). But even the second time around, the disciples wonder how Jesus is going to do it. They obviously don’t remember that last week at the revival up the road he did the same thing. Even Jesus grows impatient (“Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” Mark 8:17).
    • In another episode the disciples tried unsuccessfully to heal a boy. Jesus, clearly exasperated, asks, “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?”
  • And they continue to bicker as the crucifixion approaches. Jesus gets pretty clear when he talks about the crucifixion (“Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men”). No symbolic parable there. But after one of these revelations, the disciples decide that it was a great time to talk about which of them is the greatest. And James and John even use the opportunity to ask if they could have the two prime seats when Jesus comes again. Geeez. What were they thinking?
  • Finally, even at the end, they can’t stay awake while Jesus is praying. They all fled when Jesus gets arrested — one of them in the nude when he slips the grips of a guard by stripping off his cloak (Mark 14:50-52). And even Peter “The Rock” denies that he ever knew him. That’s pretty much the end of the 12 disciples in Mark. The original Mark ends when three women go to the tomb and find Jesus missing (as a reminder, the appearances of Jesus after the crucifixion in the last chapter of Mark were added in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, possibly to bring them into alignment with Matthew, Luke, and John). 

Question of the week. We’re gonna go all conspiracy theory here. In light of the description of the disciples, and the emphasis that three women discovered the empty tomb, is it possible that a woman wrote the gospel of Mark?