Evidence that the first believers really thought Jesus was God?
Jesus is Lord! Christians are right to believe that the New Testament tells us the truth about Jesus. But what do we say to those who doubt it? There are plenty of skeptics who will claim that the original NT writings have been tampered with to fit church orthodoxy, that rival claims about Jesus were simply suppressed, and that the divine view of Jesus that we now take for granted was a late invention, instigated by Constantine and the Council of Nicea in AD325.
When faced with this kind of skepticism, we can look at the contemporary records that exist from outside of the New Testament - and here's what we find.
- the earliest Christian apology affirms Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God;
- the earliest sermon says "think of Jesus Christ as of God"
- probably the earliest Christian symbol, the ICHTHYS (Greek for fish) is an acronym used to represent the words "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour"
- the earliest liturgical prayer, in use in the first century, says "come Lord!"
- the earliest Roman letter discussing Christians reports that they worshipped "Christ, as to a god"
- the earliest account of martyrdom has numerous references to Jesus as "eternal", "heavenly" and God's Son
- even earlier than the written New Testament, the first Christian communities used oral creeds, which Paul later incorporated into his epistles, including Romans 10:9 - "that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (WEB).
As a final point, for those that insist that the gospels were corrupted later to paint Jesus in new divine light, we have early manuscript evidence. Take papyrus 75 - it is the oldest manuscript we have that contains John 1, and could well have been written towards the end of the second century. It says just what your bible today tells you about Jesus: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (WEB).
Jesus was Lord, the Son of God, in the first century. And so he remains in the twenty-first century!
by Guest Blogger Alan Scobie