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In brief it goes like this. Jesus said he was the son of God. If he believed it and he was not, then he was insane. If he did not believe it, and yet said it, then he was a liar. So our only remaining alternative is that he believed it and it was the Truth. This argument however is logically weak, and we'll see why.
Did Jesus Claim to Be God?Obviously a large part of McDowell's argument must revolve around his statement that Jesus claimed to be God. But did he? Jesus himself left no writings of his own (as far as we know). We only know what he said based upon quotes written down by his followers (in the case of Matthew and John), or their followers (in the case of Mark and Luke), many years after his death, in Greek. In addition, we have no first-hand copies of these works. The only full copies we have are probably fourth or fifth generation copies of copies. We can assume they were faithfully transcribed, but it's an assumption.
Even if we assume that the remaining copies we have extant today are faithful reproductions of the original work, did Jesus actually say the things with which he is credited? Imagine that you are writing down someone's words, twenty years after their death. Are you going to remember what they said? You may remember some of their more pithy expressions, but much of your memory will be clouded by later accretions of incidents and beliefs. In order to believe that the writing represents a faithful memory of the exact expressions requires a pre-existing faith in the very thing you're testing. Just the claim, "I don't believe they necessarily had a great memory for what he said", invalidates the entire argument.
Even if we assume that he actually did say the things ascribed to him in the Gospels, do they mean that he is God? McDowell makes it seem like there is no doubt they do. And yet, we remember the centuries of debate in the early Christian church, especially the Arians who almost took over the entire church. The belief that Jesus was a man until "adopted" by God, that he was a creature created by God, that he was similar but not the same as God, and on and on, make it clear that this evangelical idea was by no means the only possible reading of the sayings ascribed to him. If it had been, there would have been no debates and no need for the ecumenical councils that decided these questions for the early Christian church. And to the charge, "Yes, but these were heretics", is the rejoinder, "heretics are defined by the winners". Perhaps the Arians were more true to the original meaning than those who defeated them.
Did Jesus Believe he was God?A loaded question. What does it mean to be God ? And what does it mean to hold a belief in that? Did he for example believe that he was God in a way that others could not be? Or did he believe we can each be God through effort or grace or enlightenment?
How exactly does a person acquire a belief in something? Although the phrase "blind faith" is thrown about a lot, the belief in the existence of God is not exactly blind for most people. They would claim that their belief is based on actual life experience. For example you pray for X, and you get X and so this experience teaches you that prayer is effective. If your church claims that prayer is effective because of God's grace, then you can support a belief in God because of this life experience. And you can support an entire bucket full of your church's particular beliefs, just based on this type of life experience. Very few if any people go through a logical exercise to determine whether God exists or not, and even if God does, which God and what beliefs go with that. Perhaps one of the strongest experiences is the conversion experience where a person, a "blind sinner" repents, is saved and acquires with that "saving grace" a concomitant belief in whatever church happens to have accomplished the feat. This is sometimes called being "born again", but not always. The choice of the church however is somewhat random, meaning that any church offering "redemption" of this sort will grow, regardless of any other belief they may hold. They grow by acquiring members who've had a conversion experience in that particular church.
There is however another way of being God, and that is based on the idea that all humans can attain a unity with God. A state-of-mind of such a high level of enlightenment, that you fuse with God, become one with God and share the same mind with God. Is this a type of insanity? Or just a type of other-worldliness that most people cannot fathom? This type of union with God is commonly viewed as the highest attainment in Buddhism and some types of Hinduism. And some of the teachers in these faiths would say, in a similar way, I am God. Meaning - I am fused with God, we are the same substance, we are joined in one mind. But this is not a unique office which only one human can hold, any human can attain it simultaneously with any other.
- Jesus did not say what is ascribed to him
- Jesus sayings are poetic, allegorical, or metaphorical, not literal
- Jesus' life experience created a well-meaning but misguided belief that he was fused with God
- Jesus was indeed fused with God, but in a way that any human can also attain