by J Warner Wallace
I’ve met my share of “wise guys”. If you’re also a detective or police officer, I bet you’ve met a few as well. From a law enforcement perspective, nobody wants to be called a “wise guy”; it’s a title we typically think of in a negative way (especially when considered in the context of organized crime). “Wise guys” are usually up to no good, and police officers often have to put these kinds of folks in jail for one reason or another. But it’s one thing to be a “wise guy” and another to be a wise guy. As an atheist, I was a fan of wisdom, and I often read the writings of wise teachers to gain their insight and knowledge. I was also happy to learn from ancient wise teachers. Few of us would deny the wisdom of Buddha, Confucius or Aristotle for example. At the age of thirty-five, I attended a church with my wife. I attended as an atheist, and was more than happy to do this once in a while, even though I had no interest in Christians or Christianity.
The pastor was a gifted speaker who described Jesus as a wise, ancient sage who taught revolutionary principles with application to anyone living in history. In fact, this pastor described Jesus as the wisest man who ever lived. While I was not interested in Jesus as God, I was willing to engage his teaching as an ancient sage. After all, our culture is built largely on the principles espoused by Jesus, and I was a detective who regularly enforced the laws and moral standards of our culture. I decided to read Jesus and consider His words alone. I rejected the miraculous elements in the Gospels, and focused instead on Jesus’ moral teaching. There’s a danger, however, in approaching Jesus in this way. Jesus taught many important moral principles, but He also taught a dangerous claim: He said He was God.
Jesus began many of his “lectures”, sermons and “teachings” in a peculiar way, revealing Jesus’ beliefs about Himself. Jesus often prefaced His teaching in a way separating Him from other prophets or important religious leaders. When Old Testament prophets made a proclamation, they would typically begin by saying, “Thus saith the Lord” or “the word of the Lord came to me” (from the King James Version) or, “This is what the Lord says” (in modern translations). They did this because they were speaking for God, not as God. But this is never how Jesus spoke when making similar proclamations. Jesus never started His teaching with this kind of divine qualification. Jesus typically began his proclamations with expressions such as, “verily, verily, I say to you…” (from the King James Bible), or, “I tell you the truth…” (in modern translations). This repeated preface, as it is used by Jesus, is very different than the prefaces used by the Old Testament prophets. The prophets spoke for God, But Jesus clearly spoke as God…
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