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About John Lindell

This is my personal story. You can skip it, if you choose, and go directly to my essays concerning deism, and its historical and theological background. But I feel that an author should tell something about himself or herself so the reader can know “where the author is coming from.”

I am 79 years old. My wife and I have a fine family including two sons, a daughter, two daughter-in-laws, one son-in-law, four grandchildren, one granddaughter-in-law, and two great grandchildren. I have a degree in religion from Baylor University, 1952, and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas, 1957. After a very brief ministry in a Baptist church, I was a social worker for 33 years before retiring.

For over 50 years, I have been a student of religion, the New Testament, and Christian church history. My essays are an effort to share what I have learned in my search for an understanding of religion and life.

The first interpretation of the meaning of life was given to me in Baptist churches that I attended as a child. I was taught that human beings are naturally “sinful” (bad) and would be punished by burning forever in a horrible place called “hell.” I was told that the only way that a person could be “saved” from this punishment was to become a “Christian” by believing that God sent His “only Son” Jesus to die in my place to “pay the death penalty” for my sins.

As an 11 year-old child, I was frightened by this but I believed it because adults taught this to me. (Children usually believe what adults tell them.) I became very concerned about people “going to hell” so, at age 14, I decided that I would become a Baptist minister.

After graduating from high school, I entered a Baptist university and became a ministerial student. In my freshman year, I threw myself wholeheartedly into efforts to “save people from hell” by joining other students in preaching on street corners and at the city jail. In my sophomore year, I became overwhelmed by the thought that most people would never hear about Jesus so they would have no opportunity to be “saved” from everlasting punishment in “hell.” This did not seem fair to me. I could no longer believe that God would torture people forever just because they did not “believe Jesus died on a cross to save them.”

I began to question what I had been taught about Jesus. I had been taught that God became a human being, named Jesus, so his death (as a human being) on the cross could serve as a “substitute” to pay the “death penalty” incurred by human beings because of their sins.

The idea that Jesus was God in human form is contained in the doctrine of the “Trinity” of God as “Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit.” I found this idea very puzzling. In one of my religion classes, I chose to write a term paper on the “Trinity of God.” I read the entire New Testament, making notes on the relationships of “the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” I concluded that Jesus did not consider himself to be the same as, or equal to, God.

As I searched for what I could believe as a Christian, I graduated from the university, got married, and entered Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I also became pastor of a Baptist church in a very small town. In my seminary class on “Missions,” the professor lectured on the importance of sending missionaries to foreign countries because people were going to “hell” if they did not hear about Jesus. I remember feeling very upset by this.

How could a fair and loving God condemn people to “hell” when they had never even heard about Jesus. This did not make sense to me. The idea of unending torture in “hell” for not “believing in Jesus” implies that God is sadistic and fiendish. Certainly no rational person could respect or love a “God” like that.

I dropped out of the seminary after only a few months, but I continued as minister of the small Baptist church. In the “gospel” which I preached at that time, I emphasized the “resurrection” of Jesus as “evidence” of God’s power to give life, and I emphasized the necessity of repentance to obtain forgiveness of sins. I simply avoided the subjects of “hell” and “being saved by Jesus’ death on the cross.”

But I was confronted again by these subjects during a funeral at my church. I agreed to assist in a funeral for a man who was not a member of our church. The funeral was conducted by an old Baptist minister who had known the family in previous years. In his “sermon,” the old minister made it very clear that he did not consider the deceased man to be a Christian, and then the old minister proceeded to preach an evangelistic sermon about only Christians going to heaven. In effect, the old minister preached the deceased man into “hell” as the man’s wife and children sat in the front pew.

I was appalled by the old minister’s lack of sensitivity. I only hoped that the widow and her children did not hear what the minister said. But I heard it. I had heard this as a child in a Baptist church, I had heard it in a Baptist university, and I had heard it in a Baptist seminary. I finally had to face the fact that I did not believe this, and I would not preach this.

After only one year, I resigned as minister and began my search for a different understanding of life. I was convinced that God cares about everyone, not just “Christians.” This became a guiding belief in my personal religion.

At 24 years of age, I began a new career as a social worker. I obtained a master’s degree in social work and became very involved in family and children’s work, especially child protective services. I also became busy with my own family, as my wife and I had two sons and a daughter during our first seven years of marriage.

Like many parents, my wife and I felt a responsibility to give our children some religious education and identity. We made a decision to join a Methodist church so our children could avoid the experiences that my wife and I had in growing up in Baptist churches. The Methodist church was trinitarian but Methodists did not sing songs like “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” and I never heard a sermon on “hell” during the 20 years our family belonged to Methodist churches. If I did not believe the words in a creed or hymn, I simply remained silent. From age 30 until age 50, I was a member of Methodist churches.

During these years, I continued to search for what I could honestly believe. At the age of 38 (in 1968), I wrote a little book describing my personal religion which I called “Eso,” a Greek word meaning “within” because I found “truth” within my human nature. My little book was entitled, Book of Eso: A Guide to the Principles and Practice of Natural Religion.

The following are excerpts from my little “Book of Eso:”

“Eso is the oldest religion of humankind. It began when humankind began. It exists wherever people are. It is innate in each human being. It is inherent in the very design of human nature. Eso, which means “within,” is a name given in this world but the name is not important. It would be the same under any other name or no name at all.”

“Considering the apparent intelligence required in creating each human personality, or individual being, and the complex physical body in which each one dwells, as well as the ordered universe which surrounds humankind, it is improbable that such an able Creator would fail to provide some guide which every person can follow in living the Way intended for humankind and for the purpose intended for humankind.”

“This means that people cannot depend upon their environments, societies, or cultures to provide an explanation of life — for these surroundings are not the same for all people throughout all times.”

“It is apparent that all people have only one thing in common, that is, human nature. Certainly this suggests that a person must look within himself or herself — look within human nature — for a trustworthy guide in living.”

“All that we need to know about the way and purpose of life is within us.”

“The gift of life, which we possess through no choice or effort of our own, evidences a Creator, the infinite spirit of life, called “God.”

“People have discovered two important facts about the design of human nature: First, we have discovered that when we live in accord with the principle of love for others, we find joy. From this, we have learned that we are designed to live by love. Our basic human nature contains this guide for how to live.

“Secondly, we have observed within ourselves the fact that the more we live by love, our inner capacity to experience joy increases. But when we fail to love — whether by indifference to the needs of others, or by expressing or demonstrating hatred or hostility toward others –our inner capacity to experience joy shrinks and is reduced.”

“The inner capacity for joy is the measure of the amount of life within each person. As you live by love, you become more alive. As you fail to live by love, you become less alive.”

“Since the way of life intended for humankind is eso, that is, within every person, all possess the truth about life. This means that no one must depend upon any book or teacher or anything outside of himself or herself to show the way. A person has sufficient light within himself or herself.”

“When people follow that which is outside of themselves, they are in danger of idolatry. That is, they sometimes worship a book as “holy” or they deify a teacher by considering that teacher as more than human. This idolatry dishonors God the Creator who provided every person with the truth in the very being or nature of everyone.”

“One of the dangers in religions of the world is that many lead people into idolatry. There is one God, our Creator, and only God is to be worshipped.” (End of quotation)

I did not know that my religion, which I named “Eso” in 1968, had been known as “deism” for three hundred years. I had never heard of deism when I wrote my little “Book of Eso,” but I had read some Quaker literature about being guided by a “light within” and I had concluded that this “light” was inherent in the design of human nature, rather than some kind of “mystical” experience.

In 1980, when I was 50 years old, my wife and I were still members of a Methodist church but I was finding it harder to ignore the trinitarian theology found in worship services, especially in “communion” services where the “wine” (grape juice) represented Jesus’ blood “which was shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.”

From what I had read about Unitarian Christianity, I came to identify myself as a “Unitarian Christian.” In 1981, I decided to join a local Unitarian Church that belonged to the Unitarian Universalist Association. The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America had merged in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

The by-laws of the Unitarian Universalist Association stated that it would “cherish and spread universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God and love to humankind.” This statement was printed on the Sunday “Order of Service” at the local Unitarian church on my first visit. At last, I thought, I had found the church that I had been looking for.

But the UUA was undergoing a great change when I joined the local Unitarian church.

American Unitarianism became a structured denomination in 1865 with the formation of the National Conference of Unitarian Churches that identified itself as consisting of “Christian Churches of the Unitarian Faith.”

In 1894, a statement by the National Conference affirmed that “These churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding in accordance with his teaching, that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to man(kind)” but the Conference also stated that “Nothing in this Constitution is to be construed as an authoritative test; and we cordially invite to our working fellowship any who, while differing from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our practical aims.”

In effect, Unitarian churches in the United States became “non-creedal” organizations. During the early 1900’s, the Unitarian Christians became outnumbered by those members who differed from them “in belief,” especially non-theist humanists who appreciated the humanitarian “aims” of the Unitarian churches but affirmed no belief in God.

By 1981, only 30% of the members of UUA churches professed a belief in God. With the majority of its members being non-theists (either agnostics or atheists) the UUA changed its by-laws by dropping its reference to “love for God” in 1985. The UUA voted to become a “pluralistic” organization that included persons of all religious or philosophical beliefs. A survey of the local Unitarian church that I joined showed that only 13% of the members viewed themselves as “Unitarian Christians.”

I was very active in the local Unitarian church, serving as president of the Board of Trustees twice. I had hoped that a “pluralistic” church would be satisfactory for me but by 1994, the UUA leadership was primarily non-theist and the local congregation offered nothing for Unitarian Christians. I resigned from the church but still considered myself a “Unitarian Christian.”

I had never heard of deism until I read Thomas Paine’s book The Age of Reason in 1998. I admire Thomas Paine, and his book led me to explore deism in more depth. After reading Matthew Tindal’s book, Christianity As Old As Creation, A Republication of the Religion of Nature (1730), I realized that Thomas Paine’s understanding of deism was somewhat limited, and that I am a “Christian Deist.”

Most of the early Deists in the 17th and 18th centuries considered themselves to be “Christians” but “unitarian” in the purest theological sense. They agreed that Jesus was only a human being and that there is one God, our Creator. The deists’ beliefs in natural and universal religion appealed to me. I recognize that I have been a Deist since age 38 when I wrote my little “Book of Eso.”

During the past ten years, I have studied the writings of Deists, and it is my intention to make the history and beliefs of Christian Deism better known. I believe that many people may be happy to discover that they are “Christian Deists.”

What Is The Gospel?

The word “Gospel” means “good news.” The good news is given through a message. In the New Testament, there are two different messages that are called “the gospel.” One is given by Jesus and one is given by Paul, a man who called himself an “apostle” (messenger) but was not among the original followers of Jesus.

According to the book of Mark in the New Testament, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14-15).

To understand what Jesus was talking about, we must put his statement into historical context.

Jesus was a Jew. According to their traditions, the Jews believed that God had promised their ancestor, Abram (later called Abraham) that his descendants would become a great nation by which “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

According to the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible, “The Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly. (Genesis 17:1-2) And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Caanan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God’.” (Genesis 17:7-8) As a sign of this covenant, it was agreed that all male decendants of Abram (Abraham) would be circumcised.

Some of the descendants of Abraham, through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob (whose name was changed to “Israel”), migrated to Egypt where their numbers multiplied. Israel’s twelve sons were heads of families which became known as the “twelve tribes of Israel,” or Israelites. The Israelites (also called Hebrews) left Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, and eventually migrated to the land ruled by the Caananites about 1,200 years before Jesus.

The twelve tribes of Israelites were eventually organized into a kingdom ruled by a succession of kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. About 922 BCE (Before Christian Era) , the kingdom divided into two kingdoms, known as Judah (two southern tribes) and Israel (ten northern tribes). Two hundred years later, in 722 BCE, Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. In 587 BCE, Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Many of the Hebrew people were dispersed to other countries. The leading families of Judah were taken into exile in Babylonia.

When Persia conquered Babylonia, the Persian king Cyrus allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland, in 538 BCE, and they began rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the Jews continued to be ruled by Persia until being conquered by Alexander the Great of Greece in 332 BCE. After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided among his four generals — two of whom were Ptolemy who ruled from Egypt and Seleucus who ruled from Syria. At first, the Jews were ruled by the Ptolemaic rulers from Egypt but in 198 BCE the Seleucid rulers from Syria took over control of the Jews.

The Jews hoped that someday a messiah (an anointed one) would be sent by God to re-establish the Kingdom of Israel in fulfillment of their expectation that the descendants of Abraham would become a great nation by which “all the families of the earth would be blessed.”

The Jews revolted against their Syrian ruler and gained their independence in 164 BCE. After 101 years, the Jews lost their freedom again when the Romans took control of the Jews in 63 BCE. Once again, the Jews began longing for their independence as a nation. Some Jews found hope in the book of Daniel which was written by an unknown Jewish writer just before the Jews obtained their freedom from Syria. The book encouraged the Jews to expect their freedom at that time. The book describes a series of dreams which the Hebrew prophet Daniel allegedly had when the Jews were ruled by Babylon and were longing for their freedom then.

In one of his dreams, the prophet Daniel saw “one like a son of man” who was given an everlasting kingdom by the “Ancient of Days” (God). The term “son of man” means “human being.” This “son of man” symbolized the kingdom of Israel which was predicted to come. In the time of Jesus, the term “son of man” was used sometimes to refer to a leader (messiah) who would come to re-establish the kingdom of Israel.

Based on their own interpretation of the book of Daniel, some Jews believed that the “messiah” was due in Jesus’ time. You can imagine the excitement when a man called John the Baptizer (or Baptist) appeared in the wilderness near the Jordan river preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Of course, those who heard John the Baptist interpreted his message to mean that the time for the liberation and restoration of the kingdom of Israel was near.

John the Baptist called for the people to “repent” of their sins in preparation for the coming of the “kingdom” from God. Those who repented were baptized (immersed) by John in the Jordan river, symbolizing that their repentance had cleansed them from their guilt.

Jesus was among the Jews who were baptized by John the Baptist. John the Baptist was arrested and later executed by Antipas, a puppet ruler appointed by the Roman emperor. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Gallilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ ” (Mark 1:14-15) Jesus was joined by others including some former followers of John the Baptist.

Originally, Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” was a nationalistic one. When he sent his twelve disciples out to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7). And Jesus told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

When Jesus began preaching, his concept of the “kingdom of God” was similar to the view held by other Jews who were hoping that the re-establishment of the kingdom of Israel would enable the Jews to fulfill their national mission of being a blessing to all of the families of the earth. These Jews believed that the “son of man” (messiah) would come suddenly “with his angels” to establish the rule of God on earth. It would be a dramatic event.

But then, Jesus began talking about the coming of the “kingdom of God” in other terms. He said that the “kingdom of God” was something that could be discovered and could grow gradually. Jesus used about two-thirds of his parables to describe his new concept of the “kingdom of God” on earth. It is doubtful that his disciples ever understood what Jesus was talking about. They had joined Jesus in a revolutionary movement to re-establish the kingdom of Israel. And then Jesus began teaching “love for enemies” and used a “Samaritan” (a person of mixed race and unorthodox religion) as an example of a good neighbor. It is no that wonder that Judas reported Jesus to the religious authorities. Jesus had become a “heretic” with his unorthodox beliefs.

Neither did the Roman authorities understand Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God.” They saw his call for the coming of a new “kingdom” on earth as a revolutionary movement so they crucified him, the usual Roman punishment for political revoluntaries.

The only “gospel” that Jesus preached was “The kingdom of God is at hand.” To understand what he meant by this, we must turn to the parables of Jesus. (See my essay on “The Kingdom of God.”)

Soon after the time of Jesus, a man named Paul began preaching his own “gospel.” Paul was a Jew with some theological training. Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus except in some kind of mystical “vision” that convinced Paul that Jesus was the Jewish “messiah.” But there was nothing in traditional Jewish beliefs about the “messiah” that could explain why Jesus was crucified. So Paul drew upon his religious training to present his theory that Jesus’ crucifixion was like the sacrifice of a “ram without blemish” as a guilt offering to atone for sins (as described in the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible).

Paul claimed that Jesus was “without sin” of his own because he was the divine Son of God who had come to earth in human form to sacrifice his life to pay the death penalty which humankind had incurred because of sin. Then Paul claimed that God rewarded Jesus by raising him from the dead and making him ruler (Lord) over all humankind. According to Paul’s “gospel,” whoever accepts Jesus as “Lord” and believes that God raised Jesus from the dead will be “saved” from death (of the soul). (The details of Paul’s theology are presented in my essay on “The Theology of Paul”.)

Paul began preaching his “gospel” in missionary journeys to many countries while the leaders among the original disciples of Jesus remained in Jerusalem, waiting for Jesus to reappear to “establish the kingdom of Israel.” After the Jews revolted against Rome in 66 CE (Christian Era), the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 CE. By that time, Paul and nearly all of the original disciples of Jesus were dead. The “gospel” that Paul preached had taken root in “churches” far away from Jerusalem. These congregations consisted mostly of non-Jews who were attracted to the offer of “eternal life” and had no interest in the re-establishment of the “kingdom of Israel.”

By 70 CE, Jesus had not reappeared and the world had not come to an end, as some of his original followers expected, so unknown writers began collecting whatever had been written or could be remembered about Jesus’ life and teachings. The teachings of Paul were available through letters that he wrote to congregations he had established or visited. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present their versions of the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ “gospel” of the “kingdom of God” is found in parables presented in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The book of John was written later (probably about 100 CE) by an unknown writer who evidently had “insider” information from an associate of Jesus but the book reflects the influence of the Greek philosophy (as seen in “logos” theory which came from the Greek philosoper Heraclitus about 500 years before Jesus).

The “gospel” of Jesus, as presented by the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the “gospel” of Paul as presented in his letters can be found in the book called the New Testament. The “gospel” of Paul, as modified over four centuries by many church “councils,” became the trinitarian theology which is dominant in “Christian” churches today.

The ancient thought forms (blood sacrifice, etc.) in which Paul cast his theological concepts are not meaningful to many people today. Many have disregarded “Christianity” and “Jesus” because of the grotesque images and concepts that Paul’s “gospel” presents. I am hopeful that some will be willing to take a look at the “gospel” of Jesus, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” as explained by Jesus in his parables.

The Theology of Paul

What you usually hear about Jesus today in churches and on TV is an interpretation that comes from the writings of a man named Paul who called himself an “apostle” (messenger) but was not among Jesus’ “twelve” disciples who are also called “apostles.”

Paul’s ideas about Jesus are found in letters which he wrote to churches and which were later included in the book called the “New Testament.”

Paul, whose Jewish name was Saul, lived during and after the time of Jesus but Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus except in some kind of mystical “vision” after the time of Jesus. From his “vision” of Jesus, Paul became convinced that Jesus was the Jewish “messiah” (“christos” in Greek) whom Paul believed would become the ruler (“lord”) of all humanity, not just the “kingdom of Israel.”

Paul referred to Jesus by the title of “christos.” The English word “Christ” in the New Testament is a transliteration of the Greek word “christos” (a verbal adjective meaning “anointed”) which, in turn, is a translation of the Hebrew word “mashiach” (a participle which also means “anointed”). “Mashiach” (“anointed” one) refers to someone who is chosen for a special purpose, such as a king. Mashiach is sometimes expressed in Greek as “messias” or in English as “messiah.”

Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, the term “christos” is used as a title for Jesus. Jesus (the) Christ simply means Jesus “the anointed one.” Eventually the followers of Jesus became known as “Christians.”

What did Paul believe about Jesus, and how did Paul’s ideas become dominant in Christian churches?

Although Paul considered Jesus to be God’s Son, “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6), Paul believed that Jesus was subordinate to God “the Father.” Paul wrote, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one lord (ruler), Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (I Corinthians 8:6). “When all things are subjected to him (Jesus), then the Son himself will also be subjected to Him (God) who put all things under him (Jesus), that God may be everything to everyone” (I Corinthians 15:28).

Paul believed that Jesus was the means by which God “the Father” created “all things” and humankind. Paul’s belief reflects the influence of Greek philosophy. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that a “logos” (a creative intelligence, or “mind”) created the order of the world. (The unknown writer of the book of John claimed that Jesus was this “logos” in John 1:1-14.) Paul was from the city of Tarsus where Greek ideas were well known.

Paul began preaching that Jesus was the “messiah” (Christos) whom the Jews were expecting but he immediately ran into a problem. The Jews were not expecting their messiah to be crucified. According to the book of Acts, Paul “came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the (Hebrew) scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:1-3).

Paul’s theory about why Jesus had to die is explained in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Paul used the story of “Adam and Eve” in the Hebrew book of Genesis to explain the origin of sin and death. “Therefore sin came into the world through one man (Adam) and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12).

Then Paul wrote that people are saved from sin and death by Jesus’ death on the cross (his crucifixion). “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ (Jesus) died for us. Since therefore we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:8-9). Paul’s explanation of the death of Jesus was in terms of a blood sacrifice to atone for sins.

In the days in which Jesus lived and Paul wrote, the Jews had a complicated sacrificial system in their religion. The book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible describes the kinds of sacrifices that were offered in the temple at Jerusalem to “atone” for sins, committed knowingly and unknowingly.

For sins committed knowingly against one’s neighbor, restitution was required and a “ram (male sheep) without blemish” was sacrificed in the temple as a guilt offering “to make atonement for him (the sinner) before the Lord, and he (the sinner) shall be forgiven for any of the things which one may do and thereby become guilty” (Leviticus 6:6-7).

The offering of a sacrifice was considered an act of obedience to God. Paul used this “sacrifice” analogy to interpret Jesus’ crucifixion as an act of obedience to God to atone for the the sins of humankind. Paul wrote, “For as by one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s (Jesus’) obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

According to Paul, “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (sought after), but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name (authority or status) which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord (ruler), to the glory of God the Father” (Phillipians 2:5-11).

Paul concluded that salvation from sin and death comes to individuals who accept Jesus as “lord” and believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote, “Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

The idea that Jesus was “sinless” came from Paul. Paul wrote, “For our sake He (God) made him (Jesus) to be (a sacrifice for) sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). A later writer in the book of First Peter (in the New Testament) referred to Jesus as “a lamb without blemish or spot.” “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (First Peter 1:18-19). This is clearly a reference to the sacrifice of a “ram without blemish” described in the book of Leviticus.

Paul called his message the “gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19). Paul summarized his “gospel” in his letter to the Christians at Corinth, “Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethen at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep (died). Then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (I Corinthians 15:1-8).

Paul’s “gospel” can be summarized as follows:

(1) “Christ died for our sins” — The penalty for sin is death but Jesus is God’s divine and sinless Son who died on the cross to pay the death penalty on behalf of humankind.

(2) “He (Jesus) was raised on the third day” — God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and gave him authority as “lord” (ruler) over all humankind, and whoever “confesses that Jesus is lord” and “believes that God raised him from the dead” will be saved from sin and death.

Does all of this sound familiar to you? It should because Paul’s theology became dominant in the Christian movement. Paul preached for about 30 years after the time of Jesus. He spread his views through his missionary journeys in many countries and he wrote letters to the young churches that he established or visited. His letters were kept and circulated among the early Christians.

Paul had very little success in convincing the Jews of Asia Minor and Greece that Jesus was the Jewish messiah so Paul turned his attention to Gentiles (non-Jews) who were attracted to Paul’s idea of “eternal life” through accepting Jesus as “lord.” Paul believed that Gentiles could become Christians without converting to Judaism with its requirements of circumcision and dietary laws.

In 66 AD, the Jews revolted against the Romans in an effort to liberate the kingdom of Israel. The Christians in Jerusalem saw what was happening and fled east across the Jordan river to Pella and other places. In 70 AD, the Romans crushed the revolution by destroying Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. Throughout the years, Jerusalem had been the headquarters for the Christians who were closest to Jesus, such as Peter, James, and others. Christians in Jerusalem considered themselves within Judaism. They had serious doubts about Paul and sometimes opposed him.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, the influence of Jewish Christians began to decline. The churches in Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, and other places where Paul had spread his version of the “gospel” took over the leadership of the Christian movement. These churches were mostly in “Hellenized” areas where Greek culture and ideas had flourished since the days of Alexander the Great. The Christian movement began to establish its identity as a religion separate from its Jewish roots. But the movement carried with it the terminology which Paul used in his interpretation of the significance of Jesus.

Between 70 AD and 100 AD, four unknown writers collected whatever could be found or remembered about the life and teachings of Jesus. These writings became the books known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament. It is in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that we come closest to the teachings of Jesus in his parables and discover the “gospel of Jesus” which is very different from the “gospel of Paul.”

The book of John, which was written about 100 C.E., reflects Paul’s view that Jesus was God’s divine “Son” who lived with God in heaven before coming to the Earth.

What’s In A Creed?

Every church has a creed. A creed is a set of religious beliefs approved by a church. A creed usually consists of a brief written statement of beliefs. Some churches use written creeds that have a long history such as the “Nicene Creed.” Some churches claim to be “non-creedal” churches but this just means that there is no formal written creed that a member must accept in order to be a member. Actually, these “non-creedal” churches have specific “beliefs” that a member is expected to affirm. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word “credo” meaning I believe.

The theology of Paul became dominant in the early Christian movement but one of Paul’s ideas caused much debate among church leaders. Although Paul believed that Jesus was “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:5) and Paul referred to Jesus as the “Son” of God, Paul believed that Jesus was subordinate to “God the Father” (I Corinthians 8:6; 15:28). If the “Father” and “Son” were both divine but one ranked lower than the other, this sounded like “two Gods” or polytheism (belief in more than one God). To refute the accusation that they were polytheistic, various church leaders tried to explain how Jesus related to “God the Father.”

This theological question was debated by church leaders for three centuries! There were charges and countercharges of “heresy” against one another. The Roman emperor Constantine, who viewed the Christian church as a positive influence in the empire, became concerned that the theological controversy might threaten the unity and stability of the empire. So Constantine called the church leaders together in a Council at Nicaea to settle the matter in 325 AD.

At that time, a Christian priest named Arius in Alexandria, Egypt, was preaching that Jesus was divine because he had been created by God the Father before the world existed but that Jesus was subordinate to God the Father. Arius’ view became known as “Arianism.” Arius’ bishop, Alexander, and the theologian Athanasius argued that Jesus was co-eternal (had always existed) and had equality with God the Father.

After a long and bitter debate at the Council of Nicaea, the view of Alexander and Athanasius prevailed and was adopted by the council which produced a written creed as follows:

“We believe in one God the Father All-Sovereign, maker of all things visible and invisible;

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, things in heaven and on earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and became man, suffered, and rose on the third day, ascended into the heavens, is coming to judge living and dead.

“And (we believe) in the Holy Spirit.

“But those who say, ‘There was (a time) when he (Jesus) was not (in existence),’ and ‘Before he (Jesus) was begotten he was not (in existence),’ or that ‘He (Jesus) came into being from what-is-not,’ or those that allege, that the Son of God is ‘Of a different substance or essence’ or ‘created’ or ‘changeable’ or ‘alterable,’ these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes (condemns).”

The above creed makes it very clear that the church council at Nicaea declared that Jesus the “Son of God” was co-eternal with God the Father, a position taken by Alexander and Athanasius in opposition to the position taken by Arius who believed that God the Father had created Jesus before the world was created.

By viewing Jesus and God the Father as co-eternal (existing always) and being of the same “substance” and “essence”, the Council of Nicaea contributed to the use of the terms “Jesus” and “God” in a synonymous and interchangeable way. The terms are used interchangeably in sermons and some church hymns today.

However, the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) did not really settle anything. The debate continued about the relationship of Jesus to “God the Father.” Another church council met at Antioch in 341 AD and wrote a rather ambiguous creed that could be interpreted that Jesus and “God the Father” were co-eternal but had different “personalities” and held different “ranks.” This creed was acceptable to Arian churches in the East but the Western bishops held a council at Sardica in 343 AD supporting the Council of Nicaea creed.

In 344/345 AD another council at Antioch produced a creed that sounded like the Creed of Nicaea but allowed an Arian interpretation. In 357 AD, a council at Sirmium adopted an Arian creed that stated that the “Father” is greater than the “Son” but this creed was opposed by a council at Ancyra in 358 AD. Another council at Sirmium in 359 AD produced a creed that was more of a compromise but in 381 AD a council at Constantinople reaffirmed the Creed of Nicaea from 325 AD.

The Council of Constantinople did not leave a record of the creed it produced in 381 AD but the following creed came to be used generally in the church after that date and was affirmed by the church council at Chalcedon in 451 AD. This creed became known as the “Nicene Creed” because it is based on the Creed of Nicaea (325 AD) but substantial additions and modifications were made to the creed of 325 AD.

The “Nicene Creed” became the “orthodox” creed in trinitarian Christian churches and is recited in some churches today. This creed is as follows:

“We believe in one God the Father All-Sovereign, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended into the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end;

“And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together, who spake through the prophets;

“(And) in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

“We acknowledge one baptism unto the remission of sins.

“We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.”

The “Nicene Creed” officially created the church doctrine of the “Trinity” of God as “Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit” who are “worshipped together.” This creed also included the doctrine that “remission of sins” came through baptism.

The western churches (under the leadership of the church at Rome), and the eastern churches (under the leadership of churches at Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria) gradually drifted apart and split in 1054 when the church at Rome tried to assert leadership over all churches through the pope in Rome. In the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformation began in the western “catholic” church. The Protestant Reformation produced innumerable Christian sects which wrote their own creeds or statements of beliefs. Although there are significant differences in the beliefs held by various Christian sects, the theology of Paul has provided a core of beliefs to the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. Paul’s belief that Jesus was “in the form of God” is reflected in the creedal statement that the “Son” is of “one substance with the Father.”

Athanasius, a major architect of the creed of Nicaea (325 AD), adopted Paul’s doctrine of salvation coming through the death of Jesus. Believing that death is the penalty for sin, Athanasius wrote, “What then ought God do about this matter? Demand repentance….? But this would not safeguard the honour of God’s character, for He would remain inconsistent if death did not hold sway over man…. What else was needed (to save humankind from death) but the Word (logos) of God….” Here, Athanasius is using the Greek term “logos” to refer to Jesus.

(Note: “Logos” literally means “word.” Logos is the word used by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus to refer to the “reason” or “creative mind” that brought order out of chaos when the world was created. Later Greek philosophers said that it is the logos that gives intelligence to human beings. This philosophy is seen in the first chapter of the book of John.)

Then Athanasius explained, “The Word takes on a body (Jesus) capable of death, in order that, by participating in the Word, it might be worthy to die instead of all (humankind)…. Hence he (Jesus) did away with death for all who are like him by the offering of a substitute. For it was reasonable that the Word, who is above all, fulfilled the liability in (by) his death, and thus the incorruptible Son of God, ….naturally clothes all (believers) with the incorruption in promise concerning the resurrection (from death).”

It is clear that Athanasius adopted Paul’s theory of salvation which is called the “substitutionary theory of the atonement.” In this theory, Jesus substituted his death for the death of humankind, thus paying the “death penalty” which humankind had allegedly incurred by sin (disobedience to God). According to Paul and Athanasius, repentance from sin is not enough to obtain God’s forgiveness.

As seen in the “Nicene Creed,” the early church believed that salvation from sin and death came through water baptism. The creed states, “We confess one baptism for the remission of sins.” Since baptism is a function performed by the church, this belief gave the Christian clergy control over who could be “saved.” It also produced a belief that infants inherited guilt from “Adam’s sin” and were condemned to hell from the time of birth unless baptized by a Christian priest.

The theology of the Nicene Creed was carried over into the Lutheran churches in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1530 states:

“We unanimously hold and teach, in accordance with the decree of the Council of Nicaea, ….all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ womb. ….Moreover, this inborn sickness and heredity sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. ….God the Son became man …. was crucified, died and buried in order to be a sacrifice not only for original sin but for all other sins and to propituate God’s wrath. ….It is taught among us that Baptism is necessary and that grace is offered through it. Children, too, should be baptized, for in Baptism they are committed to God and become acceptable to Him.”

During the Protestant Reformation, the “Reformed” churches, led by John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Philip Menlanchthon, and others, differed in some respects from the Lutheran churches but accepted trinitarian theology and Paul’s theory of salvation through the death of Jesus.

An antitrinitarian movement also began in the sixteenth century and was opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and by Martin Luther and John Calvin, leaders of Protestant churches. This antitrinitarian movement, led by Michael Servetus of Spain, Francis David of Transylvania, and Faustus Socinus of Italy, later became known as Unitarianism.

The antitrinitarians viewed Jesus as subordinate to God “the Father,” but there was no agreement among them as to who Jesus was. Michael Servetus (1511-1553) believed that God was Jesus’ father but that Jesus did not exist before he was born on earth, so Jesus was separate from God and subordinate to God. Francis David (1510-1579) believed that Jesus was “begotten in the womb of the virgin (Mary) by the Holy Spirit” and that Jesus did not exist before his birth on earth. Francis David believed that Jesus was both “God and man.” Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) believed that Jesus was a “true man by nature” but not a “mere man” because he was “conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”

John Biddle (1615-1662) of England taught that Jesus had “no other than a human nature.” Theophilus Lindsey (1733-1804), who organized the first Unitarian congregation in England, believed that Jesus was a “man of the Jewish nation.” Thomas Belsham (1750-1829) of England believed in the “unity of God and the simple humanity of Jesus Christ.”

In 1819, the American minister William Ellery Channing preached his famous sermon entitled “Unitarian Christianity” in which he admitted that there were various opinions among Unitarians about Jesus but there was agreement that Jesus’ death was not necessary to save people from the penalty of sin. Channing said that God is always ready to forgive those who repent.

Christian Unitarianism flourished in England in the 18th century and in the United States in the 19th century but declined and virtually vanished in the 20th century because there was no clear agreement among Unitarians regarding the identity and mission of Jesus. In 1985, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in the United States deleted from its by-laws the traditional Unitarian Christian affirmation of “love to God and love to humanity,” thus officially separating the UUA from its Judeo-Christian heritage.

Historically, some Unitarian Christians have been able to recognize that the religion of Jesus is simply “love for God and love for neighbor,” and some Unitarian Christians have been able to recognize that Jesus saw himself as a human being like ourselves. But it was in the seventeenth century (C.E.) that a religious movement called “deism,” clearly recognized the humanity of Jesus and the universality of religious truths.

The Deists opposed the exclusive doctrines that were considered “orthodox” in trinitarian Christian churches such as “original sin” and the corruption of human nature, the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus, supernatural miracles and prophecies, the exclusive revelations of truth from God to individuals or through “holy books” such as the Bible or Qu’ran (Koran), and vicarious sacrifice to atone for sin. The Deists emphasized religion based on nature and human reason that promoted belief in God and virtuous living.

A Man Named Jesus

I view Jesus as a human being, like you and me, but living in a different time and place. Jesus was a Jew, almost 2,000 years ago, and he shared the Jewish belief that God intended for the descendants of Abraham (the Jews) to become a nation. (Genesis 12:2).
The Jewish nation, known as the Kingdom of Israel, had a history of being dominated by other nations including Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Egypt, and Syria. In Jesus’ day, the Jews were ruled by the Romans. The Jews looked forward to the day when they would become what Abraham had envisioned — an independent nation obedient to God’s laws.

When John the Baptist began preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2), some Jews believed that the time had come for a messiah (“anointed one”) to liberate the Jews and reestablish an independent Kingdom of Israel. Jesus joined this movement and was baptized by John the Baptist.

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).

At that time, Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” was a nationalistic one. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (the Jews). And preach as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7).

(Note: The terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous.)

In the beginning, Jesus was clearly a Jewish revoluntionary and he was eventually crucified as such by the Romans. But as Jesus traveled and preached the coming of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus’ concept of the kingdom began to change.

When Jesus encountered a Caananite (non-Jewish) woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon, the woman asked Jesus to heal the woman’s daughter.

Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Note: At that time, Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary and he thought that his mission was only to help the Jews.)

But the woman came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord (sir), help me.” Jesus replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Note: In this statement, Jesus expressed a prejudice that was common among the Jews at that time. Jesus referred to the Jews as the “children” of God and to the Caananites, non-Jews, as “dogs,” implying that non-Jews were inferior to Jews.)

The Caananite woman replied, “Yes, lord (sir), yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire.” And the woman’s daughter was healed, according to the book of Matthew (15:22-28).

It seems that Jesus learned a lesson in humility and faith from this Canaanite woman. As Jesus encountered persons of other nationalities and religions, Jesus gradually overcame his prejudices against such persons. Jesus ended his days on earth telling his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And Jesus used a Samaritan (a non-Jew) as an example of a “good neighbor” in the parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-37).

As Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” grew, he used parables (stories) to try to explain his new concept. Many of Jesus’ parables begin with the statement, “The kingdom of heaven is like ….” It is in Jesus’ parables that we find the “kingdom of God” defined as the reign of God’s laws (commandments) in the hearts of individuals and in the reformation of society. Jesus prayed to God, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus summarized the laws, or commandments, of God as follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the (Mosaic) law and (teachings of) the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus, as a Jew, probably never gave up his hope that someday the Kingdom of Israel would be reestablished as an independent nation obedient to God’s laws but Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” contained the hope that God’s law of love would rule in every human heart and in all of human society.

Jesus believed that he had been “anointed” to preach the gospel (good news) that the “Kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news ….” (Luke 4:18). The Greek word “christos” means “anointed one” so Jesus eventually became known as Jesus “the christos.” And the followers of Jesus eventually became known as “Christians.”

Jesus knew that he was risking crucifixion by the Romans because Jesus was preaching the coming of the kingdom of God. The Romans viewed this message as words of a Jewish revolutionary seeking to liberate the Jews from the Romans. Crucifixion was the Roman punishment for revolutionaries.

Jesus took this risk and was crucified by the Romans. Although Jesus survived his crucifixion, at least for some days, his cross became a symbol of unconditional love for others and a commitment to the mission of spreading the gospel of God. Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

Later, a man named Paul misinterpreted the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul believed that Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay a death penalty on behalf of humankind to save people from the “wrath” of God. Paul believed that Jesus was a divine and sinless being who sacrificed his life as a “substitute” to atone (make amends) for the sins of humankind, like a “ram without blemish” was sacrificed as a “guilt offering” to God in the Jewish temple, 2,000 years ago (Leviticus 6:6-7). Today, the so-called “substitutionary theory of the atonement” is based on Paul’s belief.

But Jesus saw himself only as a “man who has told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) and Jesus did not see his cross as a “substitute” for anyone. In fact, Jesus made it very clear that he expected his disciples to risk their own lives if they chose to follow him. Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Here, Jesus is clearly saying that a person must be prepared to pay whatever it costs to live by the commandments — to love God and neighbor. The cost to Jesus was crucifixion. However, it is our willingness to bear our own cross (whatever it may be) that identifies each of us as a disciple of Jesus. The cross of Jesus serves as an example to be followed; it does not serve as a substitute to save us from anything.

Who was Jesus?

This essay is written in response to readers who have asked me to write some more about the identity of Jesus, and the relationship between Jesus and God.

It is understandable that there is confusion about this. In trinitarian Christian churches, the name “Jesus” is used interchangeably with the terms “Son of God” and “God” in sermons and hymns. Trinitarians worship Jesus as divine.

The idea that Jesus is the only divine Son of God came originally from Paul of Tarsus, who called himself an “apostle” (messenger) of Jesus. Paul wrote, “. . . . Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (sought), but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Although Paul viewed Jesus as the divine Son of God, Paul did not view Jesus as equal to “God.” Paul wrote, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (I Corinthians 8:6). “When all things are subjected to him (Jesus), then the Son himself will also be subjected to Him (God the Father) who put all things under him (Jesus), that God may be everything to everyone” (I Corinthians 15:28).

Paul believed that God the Father had chosen Jesus to be the “messiah” or “lord” (ruler) of the world, but that Jesus is subordinate to God the Father. Paul also believed that God the Father used Jesus to create the world and humankind. This latter belief reflects the influence of Greek philosophy. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, six centuries before the Christian Era, believed that a “logos” (a creative intelligence, or “mind”) created the order of the world. Paul was from the city of Tarsus where Greek ideas were well-known. This idea of the “logos” is also seen in the Gospel of John where the unknown writer claimed that the “logos” that created the world was incarnated (became flesh) in Jesus (John 1:1-14).

The idea that the “Son of God” existed before being born as a man (Jesus) posed a problem for the early Christian church. It appeared that Christians worshipped two Gods, although one ranked higher than the other. This is called “polytheism” (worship of more than one God). The relationship of Jesus to God the Father became a matter of debate among Christians during the first three centuries of Christianity.

A Christian priest, named Arius, in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that God the Father had “created” Jesus as the Son of God before the world was created, and that Jesus was subordinate to God the Father. A church council was convened in Nicaea, in 325 C.E., to settle the controversy about Jesus and his relationship to God the Father.

Arius’ view, called Arianism, was condemned by the Council of Nicaea, and the Council produced the “Creed of Nicaea” which declared that Jesus was the “Son of God” who was “only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, things in heaven and on earth.”

The Creed of Nicaea declared that the Son of God had always existed and was the creator of the world: “But those who say, ‘There was (a time) when he (the Son of God) was not (in existence)’ and ‘Before he (the Son of God) was begotten, he was not (in existence)’ . . . . the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes (condemns).”

The Creed of Nicaea did not say that the Son of God was subordinate to God the Father. The creed claimed that the Son of God was begotten “of one substance with the Father,” suggesting that the Son of God existed within God the Father even before the Son was “begotten.” This was apparently an effort to refute the charge that Christians believed in two Gods, or “polytheism.”

So when did God the Father “beget” (i.e., “become the father of”) the “only begotten Son of God?” A church council in Chalcedon, in 451 C.E., affirmed in a creed known as the “Nicene Creed” that the “Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God” was “begotten before all ages” and “for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended to the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end; . . . .”

According to the creeds of 325 C.E. and 451 C.E., the Son of God had always existed as “one substance with the Father” and was “begotten before all ages” before coming “down from the heavens” to be “made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” and become known as Jesus.

The Nicene Creed, in 451 C.E., also declared a belief in “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, who proceeded from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped together and glorified together . . . .” Thus the doctrine of the “Trinity of God” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was affirmed as the “orthodox” trinitarian view of God. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit “proceeded” from God the Father, and the Son of God was “begotten” from “one substance with the Father” indicating that the Holy Spirit and the Son of God were part of God, and were to be worshipped “together” with God the Father. This has led trinitarian Christians to worship Jesus, and to equate Jesus with God the Father in trinitarian Christian churches.

The apostle Paul probably did not recognize the problem created by his view that Jesus was divine but subordinate to God the Father. Paul believed that Jesus was the “messiah” (anointed one) who would return to the earth during Paul’s lifetime to rule all humankind in the “Kingdom of God” (First Corinthians 7:29-31; First Thessalonians 4:16-17; First Corinthians 15:24-28).

Paul sometimes referred to Jesus as “lord” meaning “ruler” of the Kingdom of God. Since the term “Lord” is also used in the “Old Testament” to refer to God as the “ruler” of the universe, trinitarian Christians often refer to Jesus as “Lord,” meaning “God” without distinguishing between Jesus and “God the Father” as Paul did (Philippians 2:9-11).

The Gospel of John also depicts Jesus as the divine Son of God but separate from and subordinate to God the Father:

In John 12:49, Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has Himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.” Jesus did not claim to have the same authority as God the Father.

In John 14:28, Jesus told his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Jesus did not claim equal status or rank with God the Father.

In John 14:1, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” Again, Jesus was not identical with God the Father.

In John 14:24, Jesus said, “. . . . the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” Jesus believed that he had been sent by God the Father.

In John 14:31, Jesus said, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus was not talking about loving himself.

In John 15:15, Jesus said, “. . . . all that I have heard from the Father, I have made known to you.” Again, the Father is someone separate from Jesus.

Jesus certainly did not view himself as being identical with God the Father. This is clearly seen in the fact that Jesus frequently prayed to God the Father.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup (death) from me, yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt'” (Mark 14:35-36). Here, Jesus’ “will” is certainly separate from God’s “will.”

Incidentally, this scripture also shows that Jesus did not believe that God had sent him to die as a sacrifice to God to save humankind from the “death penalty” for sin. If Jesus had believed that God had sent Jesus for the purpose of dying, it would have been nonsense for Jesus to ask God to “remove this cup (death) from me.”

Also, when Jesus was being crucified, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabschthani,’ that is, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Again, this scripture shows that Jesus did not view himself as identical with God. Here, Jesus felt “forsaken” by God. Also, this scripture shows that Jesus did not see his crucifixion as the intended purpose of his life. The so-called “substitutionary theory of the atonement by the death of Jesus” collapses if we take the words of Jesus seriously.

Trinitarian Christians often quote Jesus saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) to support their belief that “Jesus” and “God the Father” are simply different terms for referring to the same God. But trinitarian Christians should continue reading John 10:31-38 and the 17th chapter of John.

Here is John 10:31-38: “The Jews took up stones to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father, for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.'”

“Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods?'” (Note: Jesus is referring to Psalms 82:6, “I say, You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If he (the psalmist) called them gods to whom the word of God came (i.e., the Jewish people), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’ because I say that I am son of God?'” (Note: some English translations say “the” son of God, but Greek manuscripts do not have the article “the” before “son of God.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.'”

The “oneness” that Jesus claimed with God the Father did not mean that Jesus was identical with God the Father because Jesus also prayed that his disciples “may be one even as we (Jesus and God the Father) are one” (John 17:11).

Later, Jesus prayed that his followers would “all be one as Thou, Father are in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou has sent me. The glory which Thou has given me, I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou has sent me and hast loved them even as Thou has loved me” (John 17:21-23).

The “oneness” that Jesus had with God, the Father, was a “oneness,” or unity, that Jesus wanted his followers to have with each other, with Jesus, and with God. According to Jesus, it is through this experience of “oneness” with each other that we can know that God loves us. God’s love is experienced through our love for each other, as evidenced by works of love, just as Jesus’ works of love evidenced his “oneness” with God.

In his prayer for his disciples, Jesus repeatedly referred to his making God’s “word” known to them. Jesus prayed, “I have given them the words which Thou gavest me” (John 17:8). “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy word is truth. As Thou did send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:17-18). “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father art in me, and I in Thee, that they may be in us . . . .” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:8-13).

Jesus uses the term “God’s word” to refer to God’s commandments to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself” and Jesus emphasized “that you love one another.” It is through love for each other that individuals experience the “oneness” that Jesus claimed with God the Father.

It should be noted that Jesus said that it is through keeping God’s commandments that our “joy may be full.” Our personal happiness, or joy, comes from living by love for God and each other.

Jesus was eventually crucified by the Romans who viewed Jesus as a Jewish revolutionary calling for new Jewish “Kingdom.” There is no doubt that originally Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary, and follower of John the Baptist who referred to the Kingdom of Israel as the “Kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus began preaching the message of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kindom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), Jesus was referring to a political kingdom of Israel. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (the Jews), and preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matthew 10:5-7).

As Jesus traveled through the countryside, preaching “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel (good news)” (Mark 1:15), something remarkable happened. As Jesus encountered non-Jews, Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” began to change.

When Jesus encountered a Caananite (non-Jewish) woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon, the woman asked Jesus to heal the woman’s daughter.

Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and knelt before him, saying “Lord (sir), help me.”

Jesus replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Note: Here Jesus was expressing a prejudice that was common among Jews at that time. Jesus referred to the Jews as the “children” of God and referred to non-Jews as “dogs,” implying that non-Jews were inferior to Jews.)

The Caananite woman replied, “Yes, lord (sir), yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Evidently, Jesus was impressed that this woman was even willing to endure insult in order to get help for her daughter whom she loved. Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire.” According to the book of Matthew, the woman’s daughter was healed (Matthew 15:22-28). And Jesus learned a lesson in humility and love from this woman.

When Jesus encountered a Roman centurion (commander of 100 soldiers) in Capernaum, the Roman officer asked Jesus to heal the officer’s servant who was “lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” The officer believed that his servant would be healed if Jesus would “say the word.” Jesus “marveled, and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith’ ” (Matthew 8:5-13).

Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman who asked how to worship God, whether by the religious tradition of the Jews or by the religious tradition of the Samaritans. Jesus replied that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth . . . .” regardless of religious tradition (John 4:21-24).

From his encounters with persons of other nationalities and religions (Canaanites, Romans, and Samaritans), Jesus came to recognize that all people have the same concerns and needs. Jesus revised his concept of the “kingdom of God” to include everyone who was willing to follow God’s commandments “to love God and neighbor (everyone).” Jesus ended his days on earth telling his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And Jesus used a Samaritan (non-Jew) as an example of a “good neighbor” in the parable of “the good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-37).

Jesus’ new vision of the “kingdom of God” is defined in his parables. About two-thirds of his parables define the “kingdom of God.” These include the parables of the sower, the hidden treasure, the pearl, the mustard seed, the leaven, and many more (See my essay on “The Kingdom of God”). These parables do not describe the “Kingdom of God” as a restored political kingdom of Israel.

Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” is seen in his conversation with a Jewish scribe. “The scribe said to Jesus, ‘You are right, teacher, you have truly said that He (God) is one and there is no other (God) but Him; and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Jesus saw that he (the scribe) answered wisely, he (Jesus) said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ ” (Mark 12:32-34). Clearly, Jesus was not referring to a political “kingdom.”

The scribe was “not far from the kingdom of God” because he recognized that God’s basic laws for humankind are “love for God” and “love for neighbor as oneself.” The discovery, or recognition, of God’s natural laws is the first step toward the reign of God’s laws in an individual’s life. The next step would be for the scribe to “enter” the kingdom of God by obeying these natural laws.

The central theme of the “gospel” according to Jesus is the “kingdom of God” in which love rules. Connected with this theme is the necessity of repentance and forgiveness. If a person chooses to follow the way of love for others, that person will repent of any failure to love, and seek forgiveneess from God and from any person hurt by the failure to love.

Repentance is evidence that a person is committed to trying to live by love. The meaning of repentance is seen in Jesus’ parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). (See my essay on “Repentance and Forgiveness.”)

Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). And Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4). The idea that God cannot forgive us unless Jesus “died to pay the penalty for our sins” is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Repentance and a willingness to forgive others are the prerequisites for obtaining God’s forgiveness of our failures to love.

Now we come back to the question, “Who was Jesus?” The Apostle Paul and the unknown writer of the Gospel of John believed that Jesus was the divine “Son of God” who existed with God the Father in heaven before coming to earth as a human being, but they also believed that Jesus was not identical with God the Father nor equal with God the Father in rank. In effect, they believed in two Gods.

The writers of the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make no mention of this so-called “pre-existence” of Jesus before his birth on earth. These gospel writers describe Jesus as a human being, a Jew, who was the “messiah” whom Jesus’ disciples expected to reestablish the political Kingdom of Israel on earth. Even after his crucifixion, when Jesus, (wounded but physically alive) met with his disciples, they asked him, “Lord (sir), will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

History has proven that Jesus was not the Jewish “messiah” who would reestablish the “kingdom of Israel,” and there is no reason to believe that Jesus was the incarnation of the “logos” of Greek philosophy. To believe that Jesus was divine but subordinate to another “God” would only mean that Christianity is a polytheistic religion, akin to that found in Greek mythology.

I believe that the best answer to the question, “Who was Jesus?” is found in John 8:40, where Jesus described himself as “a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.” And Jesus made no exclusive claim to “hearing” God’s truth. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father will come to me” (John 6:45).

Jesus also said, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me; if any man’s will is to do His (God’s) will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17). God’s truth, or will, that we should “love God and love our neighbor as oneself” is known naturally by everyone. Any person who “wills (chooses) to do His (God’s) will” can recognize that Jesus taught God’s truth.

What a person believes about “who Jesus was” is not essential in following Jesus. Jesus said, simply, “you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The Cross and the Empty Tomb

The “gospel” according to Paul focused on the “crucifixion and resurrection” of Jesus.

Paul believed that the crucifixion of Jesus represented a sacrifice of Jesus’ life to pay the death penalty which humankind had allegedly incurred because of disobedience to God, beginning with the “first man” Adam. So Paul viewed the cross as the symbol of “salvation” from sin and its “penalty”.

Paul also believed that God “resurrected” Jesus from death to demonstrate God’s power to give life after death. In fact, Paul wrote that if Jesus was not resurrected from death, people have no hope for life beyond death (I Corinthians 15:17-18). The rock tomb in which Jesus had been placed was found to be empty a day and a half later, so the “empty tomb” became the symbol of the “resurrection” of Jesus from death.

How do I, as a Christian Deist, view the “crucifixion and resurrection” of Jesus?

In my view, Jesus knew that he was risking crucifixion by the Roman government, which ruled the Jews at that time, because Jesus preached the coming of the “Kingdom of God” on earth. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand (near),” the Jewish population believed that Jesus was announcing the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel as an independent nation. The Romans viewed Jesus as a minor Jewish revolutionary and crucified him, as they usually crucified Jewish revolutionaries.

The Jewish authorities were afraid that Jesus would antagonize the Romans and cause them to destroy the Jewish nation and temple (John 11:47-50). These Jewish authorities thought that they were protecting the Jewish nation by turning Jesus over to the Roman authorities. (As a matter of fact, the Jewish authorities’ fears were well-founded because 40 years later when the Jews revolted against the Romans, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple.)

Jesus was willing to die, if necessary, in carrying out his mission of preaching his “gospel” that “the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus hoped that he would not die, as evidenced by his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” (Matthew 26:39). “This cup” refers to dying. His crucifixion showed Jesus’ commitment to doing what he believed God “anointed” him to do, regardless of the risk to himself.

As a Christian, I see the cross of Jesus as a symbol of commitment to doing the will of God regardless of the risk to oneself. Jesus called for his disciples to take up their own crosses (risk death) and follow him (Mark 8:34-35). Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-13).

In regard to Jesus’ “resurrection” from the tomb, it is apparent that when Jesus appeared among his disciples, Jesus was wounded but physically alive. His disciples were surprised that Jesus was alive, so Jesus showed them his wounds to verify that he was the same man who was crucified (John 20:20). That Jesus was physically alive is not unusual. After all, he was on the cross for only six hours and his only serious wound came when a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’s side with a spear to see if Jesus was dead. When Jesus did not respond, it was assumed that he was dead.

It would have been very unusual for a human being to die after only six hours on a cross. Usually it took days for a person to die by crucifixion, unless the person’s legs were broken so the person would strangle by hanging. The Romans broke the legs of the two men who were crucified with Jesus but the Romans did not break Jesus’ legs (John 19:31-33).

During some days of meeting in secret with his disciples, Jesus charged them to go out and “make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20) and “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations…” (Luke 24:47). Jesus did not instruct his disciples to preach about his “death and resurrection.” Jesus instructed his disciples to preach obedience to God’s commandments, as Jesus had preached. And Jesus instructed his disciples to preach “repentance and forgiveness,” the same message that Jesus had preached.

After some days with his disciples, Jesus disappeared from history. There are various and conflicting reports about when and where Jesus was last seen by his disciples. It is possible that Jesus finally died from the spear wound in his side. It was reported that “water and blood” came out when the spear pierced Jesus’ side (John 19:34), so he may have sustained a serious wound that was eventually fatal. Apparently Jesus did not die in the presence of his disciples, so his disappearance must remain an unsolved mystery.

The fact that Jesus survived his crucifixion convinced his disciples that Jesus was the “messiah” that the Jews were expecting and his disciples believed that Jesus would reappear soon to restore the Kingdom of Israel. This, of course, did not happen. It is apparent now that Jesus envisioned a different kind of “kingdom”–the “kingdom of God” that comes whenever we obey God’s laws of love for God and each other.

Jesus’ own belief in life after death has nothing to do with his alleged “resurrection.” Jesus spoke of heaven during his days on earth. When he thought he was dying on the cross, Jesus prayed to God, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46) which shows Jesus’ confidence in God’s ability to take care of Jesus beyond this world. I think that we should trust God as Jesus did. Belief in Jesus’ “resurrection” is not a necessity. The existence of our own life now is all the evidence we need that God can give us life. If we live our present life as God intends, God will have a reason to give us life again. The question is not whether we can trust God to give life; the question is whether God can trust us to live life.

Understanding the Four Gospels

We do not know who wrote the “Gospels” of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which are in the New Testament. When these books were written, it was a common practice for authors to attribute their writings to well-known persons to lend “authority” to the writings. Matthew and John were two of the original disciples of Jesus. Luke was a physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys. Mark, who was also named John, was the son of a woman named Mary who had a house in Jerusalem. Mark, who was an acquaintance of the disciple Peter, also accompanied Paul and Barnabas on some of their missionary journeys.

Since it is customary to refer to the writers of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John by these names, I will follow this custom. We know that Mark wrote his book first because both Matthew and Luke quote Mark in their books, sometimes word for word, and sometimes with editorial changes and additions.

Mark and Matthew wrote their books strictly from a Jewish point-of-view, claiming that Jesus was the Jewish messiah (“anointed one”) whom the Jews were expecting to liberate the Jews from their Roman rulers and reestablish an independent “Kingdom of Israel” (also known as the “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven”) on earth.

Luke (who also wrote the book called “The Acts of the Apostles,”) wrote “The Gospel According to Luke” reflecting the viewpoint of Paul who was a “hellenized” Jew (a Jew whose views reflected a mix of Greek culture and Jewish culture). Although Paul viewed Jesus as the Jewish “messiah,” Paul invited Gentiles (non-Jews) to accept Jesus as God’s “anointed” ruler (“lord”) of the entire world, not just the Kingdom of Israel.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke apparently wrote their books after 70 C.E. (Christian Era or Common Era) because all three books make reference to the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 C.E. after the Jews revolted against the Romans beginning in 66 C.E. These books were written at a time of crisis in the Christian movement. Most of the earlier followers of Jesus were dead. Peter and Paul are believed to have died between 60 and 65 C.E. These early followers had expected Jesus to reappear on earth as the “messiah” during their lifetimes.

Paul expected Jesus to return during Paul’s lifetime to transform the world. About 53 C.E., Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealing with it. For the form of this world is passing away” (I Corinthians 7:29-31).

About 50 C.E., Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that WE WHO ARE ALIVE, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those (Christians) who are asleep (dead). For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; and THEN WE WHO ARE ALIVE, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:15-17).

It appears that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their books between 70 C.E. and 80 C.E. These books were written at a time when some of the Christians had begun to wonder why Jesus had not returned as expected. Mark (in the 13th chapter) addresses this question, and Matthew (in the 24th chapter) and Luke (in the 21st chapter) give the same explanations, based on what Mark had written.

If you will consult a good “Harmony of the Gospels**” showing Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 in parallel columns, you will see that these chapters describe conditions that existed after the Romans had destroyed the Jewish temple and Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In reading these chapters, always read Mark first, and then Matthew and Luke. The changes and additions by Matthew and Luke will become apparent to the reader, and the fact that Matthew and Luke are largely copying Mark will be evident too. (**A Harmony of the Gospels by Ralph D. Heim, Fortress Press)

The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem had made some of the Christians wonder whether Jesus was truly the Jewish messiah. The chapters, mentioned above, begin with Jesus “predicting” the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and claiming that this was an event that would precede the return of Jesus as messiah.

Then Jesus “predicted” that there would be “wars and rumors of wars,” the persecution of the Christians by the Jews and civil authorities, conflicts within families, and the appearance of “false messiahs” before the return of Jesus as the true Jewish messiah. Of course, these things were already happening at the time Matthew, Mark, and Luke were writing their “gospels.” At the end of these chapters, Matthew, Mark, and Luke claim that Jesus reassured his disciples with these words, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Then the statement is added (by Mark and Matthew), “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Whether this last sentence was intended to be from Jesus, or was a commentary by the writer, is not known. Nevertheless, the intent of adding this sentence is clear: the Christians should continue to expect Jesus to return during “this generation,” but the exact day and hour were unknown.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their books to reassure the Christians that Jesus was the messiah expected by the Jews, so the Christians should remain steadfast in their belief. By the time that John wrote his book (probably between 90 C.E. and 100 C.E.), all of the original followers of Jesus were probably dead, including the “beloved disciple” who apparently was a resource to the writer of John. This is implied in the closing chapter of John, where the writer states, “The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, (Jesus said) ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’ This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” The “I” refers to the writer of the book, and distinguishes the “writer” from the “disciple” who provided “his testimony” as a source of information to the writer.

Since Matthew and Luke had the book of Mark as a resource, these three books show a similarity and are known as the “synoptic” (see-alike) gospels.” The central theme of Jesus’ teachings in these books concerned the “Kingdom of God” on earth, as described in the parables of Jesus. The book of John appears to have been written later, after the Christian movement had become established in the “hellenized” (Greek-influenced) part of the world, where Gentiles (non-Jews) were predominant. The books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make a few references to “eternal life” (Matthew 19:16; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25, 18:18) but it was Paul who introduced the hellenized (Greek-influenced) part of the world to the idea that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The writer of the book of John interprets Jesus from a Greek viewpoint. The writer is obviously familiar with Greek philosophy because Jesus is presented as the incarnation of the “logos.” Six hundred years before the time of Jesus, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus used the Greek word “logos” to refer to the “mind” or rational power of God that created the world by bringing order out of chaos (as reflected in John 1:1-3). Other Greek philosophers viewed the “logos” as giving “intelligence” to human beings (as reflected in John 1:4 and 1:9). (NOTE: Unfortunately, in John 1:1 and 1:14, the Greek term “logos” is translated as “word” which is its literal meaning in English but the Greek philosophical meaning of “logos” as the “mind of God” is lost by such an English translation.)

The book of John describes Jesus as teaching God’s “truth” which human beings should follow in living as God intends for people to live. It is by following this truth or “light” that human beings experience life which Jesus described as “eternal” and “abundant.”

Although John viewed Jesus from a non-Jewish viewpoint, John claims that a disciple who was an eyewitness to Jesus was a resource for the book of John. The writer referred to this disciple as “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you'” (John 21:20). The book of John refers several times to this disciple “whom Jesus loved” but never names him.

Although the book of John interprets Jesus in terms of Greek philosophy, it is evident that the writer had “inside information” that could have come only from an eyewitness to Jesus. The book provides specific details about the disciples of Jesus and the events in Jesus’ life that appear to be more realistic than the descriptions given in the synoptic books. For example, Matthew, Mark, and Luke report a “voice from heaven” came at Jesus’ baptism, declaring that Jesus was God’s “beloved Son.” But John wrote that it was John the Baptist who declared that Jesus was “the Son of God” when Jesus was baptized. John’s version of this story is obviously more realistic. There are other examples like this to support John’s claim to having an eyewitness as a resource.

Although Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John write from different viewpoints, what is consistent in the four books is the message of Jesus that it is God’s will for people to love God and love each other as we love ourselves. Jesus refers to this message as God’s word, or truth, or commandment, or will, and those who accept this, as evidenced by how a person lives, will experience life as it is intended to be, and is described by the concept of “entering the Kingdom of God” on earth.

It is important to know the different viewpoints or perspectives from which Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John write because by knowing this, we can identify and disregard some of the writers’ own commentaries and interpretations that only give their personal views about Jesus.

As we read the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we must focus on discovering the “message” of Jesus that has relevance for us as we live today. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not agree on who Jesus was, but the truth that we should live by love for God and each other cannot be missed by anyone who does not get lost in the writers’ personal views about who Jesus was.

As you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you should be aware that much of what is written was intended to convince readers about “who Jesus was.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke intended to “prove” that Jesus was the “messiah” expected by the Jews. They used stories of “miracles” performed by Jesus as “signs” of his messiahship, and they quoted writings (taken out of context) from the Hebrew Bible to show that Jesus fulfilled alleged “prophecies” concerning the expected messiah. There is no need to believe that these “miracles” really happened or that these alleged “prophecies” related to Jesus because history has proved that Jesus was not the Jewish messiah. The miracle stories and the alleged prophecies have become irrelevant.

John used Greek philosophy concerning the “logos” in an effort to convince readers to believe that Jesus was the one and only divine “Son of God” with the power to grant “eternal life” to his followers (John 17:1-2). John has Jesus describe himself as having lived before the world was created (John 17:5) because, in Greek philosophy, the “logos” existed as the mind of God that created the world. All of this is found in the book of John when Jesus spoke at his “last supper” with his disciples. But the writers of the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke record nothing of such words by Jesus at that “last supper.” The idea that Jesus was the incarnated “logos” was totally foreign to Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

History has proved that Jesus was not the Jewish messiah expected by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul during their lifetimes. And there is no reason to believe that Jesus was the “incarnation” of the “logos” found in Greek philosophy, as proposed by John who wrote “And the Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). But in their collection of parables and other sayings attributed to Jesus, the writers of the “four gospels” have preserved many “truths” that can be confirmed by our own observation, experience, and reasoning. And many of these “teachings of Jesus” have provided guidance and inspiration for many persons who have discovered for themselves what Jesus meant by “the truth will make you free.” As Christian Deists, we are followers of the human Jesus who described himself simply as “a man who told you the truth” (John 8:40).

There has never been agreement on “who Jesus was,” among New Testament writers, church councils, and theologians, and it is not likely that there ever will be agreement. Fortunately, from a Christian Deist viewpoint, the importance of Jesus is in his teachings. The “truths” that Jesus taught must stand (or fall) on their own individual merits. And you, the reader, must judge that for yourself.

As you read the “four gospels,” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I hope that this essay will help you “separate the wheat from the chaff.”

Deism and Cultural Religions

“Deism” is a name given to the only religion that is known to all human beings regardless of time and place. Deism is called “natural” religion because its principles are known from nature and human reasoning.

In contrast to Deism (which is a universal religion), there are many “cultural” religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Trinitarian Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and others, which were developed in particular societies by individuals and groups living in certain geographical areas.

A cultural religion is taught to persons born in or living in an area where the cultural religion is dominant. For example, if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would probably be a Muslim (Islamic religion); if you were born in China, you would probably be a Buddhist; if you were born in Spain, you would probably be a Catholic (Trinitarian); if you were born in Salt Lake City, you would probably be a Mormon, etc.

Of course, some individuals leave the cultural religions that they learned as children, but most persons never leave their cultural religions because such religions are interwoven into the cultural fabric of their particular society. Membership in the cultural religion is expected if a person wants to be “in good standing” in a particular community or society.

Unfortunately, most cultural religions are “exclusive” religions; that is, each cultural religion claims to possess “truths” that have been revealed only to the founder or leaders of that cultural religion. Often the claim is made that God revealed these “truths” through “supernatural means” such as “angels, mystical visions, and tablets of stone or gold.” The alleged benefits of a cultural religion are available only to those persons who know of and “believe in” that cultural religion. All other persons are viewed as “unbelievers” and “infidels” who, allegedly, will be punished by God for their “unbelief.”

The so-called “supernatural truths” in a cultural religion are written into a book, such as “The Holy Bible,” “The Holy Qur’an (aka Koran),” “The Book of Mormon,” etc., which must be revered and obeyed by “believers” who expect a reward for their obedience. These “believers” often shun and sometimes persecute the “unbelievers” or “infidels.”

The history of the world has repeatedly shown what happens when two “cultural” religions clash in a particular geographical area. Often, political leaders use their cultural religion as an excuse for expanding political control over other countries in order to seize the natural resources of those other countries.

For example, when the Jews invaded Canaan and eventually took political control of the land, the Jews claimed that God had given Canaan to the Jews so they could establish the Kingdom of Israel and replace the Canaanite religion with the Jewish “true” religion. When the Arab Muslims invaded the same land about 1,800 years later, the Muslims claimed that they had been commanded by God to conquer the land and establish the Islamic “true” religion there. It is clear that the Jewish and Arab political leaders used their cultural religions to fan the flames of religious zeal to motivate their people to conquer other lands and take control of the natural resources.

Today, the Israeli Jews and the Arab Muslims battle for control of the same land, and their political leaders use religious leaders to enflame their people in the conflict. In their blind religious zeal, both sides commit inhumane acts in the name of their God: Jehovah or Allah. In following the dictates of their own “cultural” religions, many of the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims are violating God’s natural law that requires love, or compassion, for all “neighbors,” (including those “neighbors” who are viewed as “enemies”), as taught by the deist Jesus (Luke 10:30-37; Luke 6:27; Matthew 5:44).

The man known as Jesus of Nazareth was as Jew. His cultural religion was an ancient form of Judaism which led the Jews to conquer the land of Caanan by military force and rule it politically. In Jesus’ day, the Jews had lost political control of the land and were ruled by the Roman Empire.

Jesus joined a religious/political revolutionary movement which was led by John the Baptizer. The purpose of the revolutionary movement was to free the Jews from the Romans and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, which the Jews called the “kingdom of heaven” (aka “kingdom of God”), and in which the Jews expected to enjoy peace and prosperity. Like John the Baptizer, Jesus initially viewed the “Kingdom of God” as exclusively for the Jews. When Jesus sent his disciples out into the countryside to announce the coming of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans (people of mixed race and religion), but go rather to the house of Israel (the Jews). And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” (Matthew 10:5-7)

As Jesus preached his message about the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” he encountered Gentiles, Samaritans, and Romans who had the same human needs and hopes that the Jews had (Matthew 15:22-28; Matthew 8:5-13; John 4:46-53: Luke 7:1-9). Jesus revised his view of the “Kingdom of God” to include everyone who was willing to love God and “neighbor” (Mark 12:28-34) and Jesus gave up the idea that the “rule of God” would come on earth through military force (Matthew 26:52). Jesus preached “repentance” (turning away from lovelessness) and “forgiveness” of others as the way to establish the “Kingdom of God” on earth.

Jesus tried to reform his “cultural” religion. Jesus said that “love your neighbor” meant more than just loving your “Jewish” neighbor. It meant having compassion on anyone who is suffering, even those who are considered “enemies” (Matthew 5:43-47; Luke 10:29-37). Jesus taught that evil behavior begins with evil thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). He taught that good deeds can be done any time, even on the Sabbath that ordinarily is a day of rest (Matthew 12:9-14). He opposed the commercializing of religion by the money-changers who earned their living off of pilgrims who came from distant places to worship in the temple at Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13). He opposed the blood sacrifices that were part of the temple rituals which were intended as atonements for sin (Mark 12:32-33; Matthew 12:7). He urged people to pray in private, and not make a public display of prayer or giving of alms to the poor (Matthew 6:1-6).

It is no wonder that the religious leaders of the Jewish “cultural” religion viewed Jesus as a dangerous heretic and a revolutionary who might also offend the Roman rulers and cause them to take revenge on the Jews by destroying the Jewish temple and the Jewish capital city, Jerusalem (John 11:48).

Jesus’ determination to preach his vision of the “Kingdom of God on earth” eventually led to his crucifixion. After surviving his brief crucifixion, the wounded Jesus met briefly with his disciples to charge them with the mission of preaching “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all nations (Luke 24:47). Some days later, Jesus departed from his disciples. Various and conflicting stories are told about Jesus’ departure. Some of his disciples believed that Jesus had temporarily “ascended to God in heaven” and would return to the earth during the disciples’ lifetimes. But Jesus was never seen again by his disciples.

During the next four hundred years, a “cultural” religion was created around Jesus. This religion was based on the teachings of a man named Paul from the city of Tarsus. Paul claimed that Jesus was the divine Son of God who was sent by God the Father to die as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of humankind (Philippians 2:6). Paul was a Jew who compared Jesus’ crucifixion to the Jewish practice of blood sacrifice in the temple as an atonement for sins (Romans 5:8-9).

Church leaders took Paul’s view that Jesus was the only divine “Son of God” and added that Jesus, together with “God the Father” and the “Holy Spirit,” was to be worshipped as one God, officially stating this doctrine of the “trinity of God” at the Council at Constantinople in the year 381 (of the Christian Era) and reaffirming this doctrine at the Council at Chalcedon in 451 CE. Church leaders, such as Athanasius, also adopted Paul’s theory that Jesus’ crucifixion was a “blood sacrifice” to atone for the sins of humankind. This theology became known as “trinitarianism,” and this is the cultural religion taught in Trinitarian Christian churches today.

Actually, Jesus’ own religious beliefs have nothing to do with the theology which is taught in Trinitarian Christian churches. Jesus was a “deist” because he taught the truth which he discovered in himself. Jesus described himself as only “a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but he made no exclusive claim to knowing God’s truth (or God’s will). Jesus said that everyone is taught directly by God (John 6:45), and those who seek to follow God’s truth, or God’s will, are able to recognize that Jesus taught this same truth, and are attracted to Jesus (John 6:45; John 7:17).

In the 17th and 18th centuries, some Deists in England began a reform movement to return Christianity to the natural religion, or deism, of Jesus. These Deists became known as “Christian Deists.” Christian Deists recognized that natural religion can be summarized as “love for God, and love for neighbor (everyone)” as Jesus taught. The practice of love for God and neighbor is necessarily accompanied by the practice of repentance and forgiveness.

We should repent of (turn away from) any failure to love, and seek forgiveness from God. When possible, we should also seek forgiveness from any person whom we have failed to love. We receive forgiveness from God if we are willing to forgive other persons who repent of their failures to love us (Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:14-15). Christian Deists believe that by love, repentance, and forgiveness, we are doing God’s will that brings us a sense of inner peace and joy, and helps to create the “kingdom of God” on earth where people can live together in unity and peace.

The Religion of The Golden Rule

CHRISTIAN DEISM: RELIGION OF THE GOLDEN RULE

Deism is natural religion. The name “Deism” comes from the Latin word (Deus) for “God.” Deists believe that humankind originated intentionally, not accidentally. Since life comes to human beings through no decision or action of their own, this is evidence that life comes from a Source beyond themselves. From the intricate and purposeful designs seen in the world and human beings, Deists infer the existence of an intentional Creator (ordinarily called “God”). Deists do not presume to describe God but they believe that God is what gives life to human beings.

Each person is faced with the question, “How shall I live the life that I have received?” Deists believe that the answer to this question is found in the design of human nature. From observation, experience, and reasoning, Deists recognize that human beings are designed to be interdependent creatures. We are dependent on each other for survival and for satisfaction in living. As infants, we are totally dependent on others for survival. Gradually, as we grow up, we take more responsibility for our own care and for giving care to others.

From the design of human nature, it is natural for a human being to love (value) his or her own self. This “self-love” is the means for evaluating human behavior. If another person’s action is hurtful or uncaring to you, you instinctively know that this action is “wrong.” Using your power of reason (logical thinking), you recognize that your actions that are hurtful or uncaring toward other persons are also “wrong.”. This natural knowledge of “wrong” is sometimes called “conscience.” It is the basis for human morality. This knowledge enables human beings to usually avoid doing “wrong,” or to recognize when they have done “wrong.” In a mentally normal person, the ability to recognize “wrong” behavior increases as that person matures and learns from his or her observations and experiences.

Wrong behavior violates the design of human nature, and is disturbing to the mind of the violator to the extent of his or her ability to know right and wrong. Wrong behavior causes self-condemnation (guilt) and loss of self-respect within a person of normal mentality and sufficient maturity (age).

In religious terms, wrong behavior is called “sin.” Relief from guilt can come from repentance by the violator (wrong-doer). Repentance is a process in which the violator recognizes his or her wrong behavior, feels remorse over it, stops the behavior, and seeks to make amends for the wrong, if possible. Repentance of wrong behavior enables a person to feel relief from guilt, and to regain self-respect and peace of mind.

Some Deists recognize that the principles of deism were taught by a Jewish rabbi named Jesus from Nazareth. These Deists are called “Christian Deists” because they are disciples (students) of Jesus. The name “Christian” comes from the Greek word “christos” which means “anointed one.” The earliest disciples of Jesus were called “Christians” because they believed that Jesus was “anointed” (chosen) by God to establish the “Kingdom of God” on earth. Today, the name “Christian” is used as a general term by all persons who claim to be followers of Jesus regardless of their dfferences in beliefs about him.

Christian Deists believe that Jesus was simply a human being who understood and taught the way that God intends for people to live. Jesus described himself as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not make any exclusive claim to learning this truth from God. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets (Isaiah 54:13), ‘And they shall all be taught by God’ (John 6:45).” Christian Deists believe that people are taught by God through the power of reasoning that God has given to them, and from their own observation and experience.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC TEACHINGS OF JESUS?

FIRST, Jesus taught that God gives life to human beings. Jesus said, “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “it is the spirit that gives life” (John 6:63). It is obvious to human beings that they receive life through no decision of action of their own. From this, Christian Deists infer the existence of a life-giver, called “God.”

As a Jew, Jesus expressed his belief in God as stated in the Shema, the traditional Jewish affirmation of belief in God. The Hebrew word “shema” means “hear” which is the first word in the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love he Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The Shema is found in the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:4). The authors of the books of Matthew and Mark give slightly different wording but it is clear that Jesus is referring to the Hebrew Shema (Matthew 22:34-38; Mark 12:28-30) when Jesus expressed his belief in God.

Jesus taught that we show love (appreciation) to God by how we use the life that is entrusted to us. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). In this story, an employer entrusted three of his servants with varying amounts of money (called “talents”) to invest for for the employer. Two of the servants did as they were instructed, so the employer entrusted them with more money to manage in the future. Another servant showed disrespect for the employer by refusing to invest the money which that servant had received, so the employer took back the money and the unfaithful servant lost his employment.

The parable of the “Talents” could be called the parable of “Life.” God gives us varying amounts of time, abilities, and opportunities to invest in this world. How we choose to live in this world shows our love for God or lack of love for God who entrusted life to us.

SECOND, Jesus taught that right behavior is based on self-love. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) which means, You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus taught that this self-love is the basis for knowing right behavior. Jesus said, “Whatever (good) you wish that other people would do to you, do so unto them” (Matthew 7:12). This has become known as the “Golden Rule.” This natural law is intended to govern the behavior of human beings.

What is distinctive in the teachings of Jesus is his definition of “neighbor.” As a Jew, Jesus had been taught to “love your neighbor as yourself” as stated in the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus 19:18 states, you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, “neighbor” is defined as “sons of your own people” or, in other words, your Hebrew (Jewish) neighbors. The only exception to this definition is made in Leviticus 19:33, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you (the Jews) were strangers in the land of Egypt . . .”

The book of Leviticus defines “neighbor” as “sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:18) and “strangers who sojourn with you in your land” (Leviticus 19:33). In other words, “neighbor” only included persons who were Jews, or other persons who were allowed to live in the Jew’s country. There was no requirement that the Jews love anyone else, and this was clearly demonstrated when Moses ordered the Hebrew army to kill people who were considered “enemies” as the Hebrews marched through other countries on the way to invade the land of Caananites (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).

Jesus defined “neighbor” to include everyone, even “enemies.” Jesus said, ” You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He (God) makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). Of course, sunshine and rain are required to produce food needed by all human beings, the just and the unjust. We should follow God’s example in caring about the needs of all people. Deism is the religion of the Golden Rule, “Do good to others as you would have others do good to you.” The wisdom of the Golden Rule is recognized by people who profess various religions and by persons who profess no religion. It is the essential guide for human survival and satisfaction in living.

The Golden Rule is validated by human observation, experience, and reasoning. By doing good to others, normal persons reward themselves with a feeling of self-approval (happiness). By failing to do good to others, normal persons punish themselves with a feeling of self-disapproval (unhappiness).

THIRD, Jesus taught that the failure to love (value) others occurs when (1) we intentionally cause human suffering, or (2) we are indifferent to human suffering. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). In this story, robbers caused human suffering by beating and robbing a Jew. Two other persons passed by the beaten man but they were indifferent to the suffering of the man and did not try to help him. Finally, a Samaritan came to the rescue of the beaten Jew and took care of him. At the time when Jesus told this story, the Jews and Samaritans were considered “enemies” to each other so this story illustrated the meaning of love to everyone, even enemies.

FOURTH, Jesus taught that failure to love (called “sin”) can be remedied by repentance. Jesus illustrated this truth in his parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-24). In this story a young man asked his father for money which the son squandered in “loose living.” When the son realized that he had done wrong, the son was remorseful. The son confessed his “sin” to his father, and offered to make amends by working as a “hired servant” for the father. The father forgave the son and welcomed him back into the family. In this story, Jesus illustrated that repentance includes remorse for wrong behavior, stopping the behavior, confessing the wrong, and willingness to make amends for the wrong.

According to Jesus, God forgives our sins (failures to love) if we repent and we are willing to forgive others who repent of their sins against us. Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you but if you do not forgive men their trespasses (against you), neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus said, “If you brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent, you must forgive him (Luke 17:3-4).

Christian Deists reject the idea, taught by trinitarian Christians, that God requires that a “death penalty” for sins must be paid (by Jesus’ death) before God can forgive the sins of human beings. Jesus taught that God will “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12) and that repentance is the only prerequisite for receiving forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).

FIFTH, Jesus taught that the “Kingdom of God” comes on earth as God’s “will is done” (Matthew 6:10), and God’s will is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Christian Deists believe that we worship (honor) God by using our time, talents, and opportunities in doing God’s will to help make this world better for each other. Jesus called this better world the “kingdom of God.”

Christian Deists do not have places for public worship (such as churches, temples, mosques). Jesus said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. . . . But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6). Jesus also said, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:3-4).

SIXTH, Jesus taught that the life-giving spirit within human beings comes from God (John 4:24; 6:63) and is returned to God at the time of physical death. When Jesus thought that he was dying on the cross, he prayed to God, “Into Thy hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Christian Deists do not presume to know what the future will bring after this life, but we can face death with confidence in God’s care. Christian Deists believe in God’s power to give life as evidenced by the life we have now through no decision or action of our own. It is reasonable to believe that what has already occurred can occur again.

Christian Deists recognize that the responsibility for giving life belongs to God, and the responsibiliy for living life belongs to us. If we sincerely try to live by love now, as God designed us to live, and we repent of our failures to love, we have done all that we can do. We can enjoy self-satisfaction in this life, and we can be content to leave our future in God’s care.