THE UNIQUENESS OF JESUS
Jeffrey B. Russell
Professor of History
University of California Santa Barbara
Every human is unique; everyone is a child of God. So if all we are
saying about Jesus is that he is unique in that sense, the answer is obviously
yes. But it doesn't get us anywhere. It is an answer that anyone who believes
in God at all could make, including Hindus or Unitarians.
Muslims, it must be said parenthetically, do believe in the real uniqueness
of Jesus, though not in the way that Christians do.
Christians today face problems in answering the question that are different
from what Christians in the past have faced.
- Our growing respect for other religious traditions
- The growing influence of atheism, materialism, and indifference
Some have proposed a thorough revision of our views on Jesus in the light
of these problems.
Those proposals that I have read strike me as being unduly complicated and
intellectualized and morally uncompelling.
I rely upon two sources: the Bible and the tradition of the Church.
Of course it is immediately objected that I am assuming that the Bible and
the tradition of the Christian community are authroitative. So I am. Nor
do I understand what it can possibly mean, either logically or historically,
to say that one is a Christian while rejecting the authority of the Bible
It is refreshing that Birger Pearson, one of the leaders in New Testament
Studies, has recently distanced himself from such points of view as the
Jesus Seminar, though he hasn't distanced himself as much as I do. I regard
them as vaguely interesting but essentially irrelevant. At the age of 60,
I have earned the right to say, as one psychologist puts it, no more bullshit.
And that is because--and I say this as a historian--my own epistemology,
my own historical understanding is based--not upon the shifting views of
modern scholars--but upon the discernible, demonstrable, tradition of the
The Bible is quite clear on the subject. Matthew 16.13-17:
Who do people say that I am? And after a variety of answers, "But who
do YOU say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, You are the Messiah, the
Son of the Living God." And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you,
Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but
my Father in heaven." (SU EI O CHRISTOS O UIOS TOU THEOU ZOONTOS)
Of whom else can we say: He is the Messiah (King), the Son of the Living
Well, but suppose Matthew was misquoting or misrepresenting things? Suppose
Jesus never said that at all? Suppose the Bible isn't revealed and is unreliable?
Well, suppose not. If you are going to require irrefutable proof of these
thigs, you can go....where...you can go mad. Suppose the assumptions of
some modern historians ad biblical scholars are wrong? We simply cannot
know in any ultimate sense. We simply choose to play the game of these scholars,
or not. Again, as a historian I believe that the Bible and the tradition
of the Christian community are much more worthy of the benefit of the doubt.
What do we do with other religions? First, judge them by their fruits. Second,
admit, happily and joyfully, the fact that there is much wisdom to be found
in religions other than Judaism and Christianity. Third, recognize that
while the Christian Community guarantees the revelation of the Bible alone,
it has never denied that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit works elsewhere.
This was early said of Plato, and we can say it happily with regard to Buddha.
The Spirit is active everywhere.
Finally, we engage with other religions with full respect for both their
richness and ours. It's ours that usually gets shortchanged in these dialogues.
True ecumenism is encounter with the full richness of each religion, including
Christianity. If you want to experience Islam, and you went to a Mosque,
and were told that we dont really believe that the Quran is the word of
God or that Muhammad is a prophet; we just happen to be here to share our
feelings, you'd be disappointed. Or if you went to a Buddhist temple and
people told you that they thought the teachijgs of the Buddha were OK if
you happen to feel that way. We want REAL Islam, REAL Buddhism, and, please,
Is Christ then the only Son of God? Yes: IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO CHRISTIANITY.
the Bible and tradition guarantee that. Is he the only way to salvation?
Yes. Can he and does he work in people of other religions. Yes to that too.
His claim is inclusive, not exclusive.
Why must Christians insist that Christ is the only Son of God? It is to
affirm the two great teachings upon which Christianity is based: the Trinity
and the Incarnation.
The Incarnation of God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ is an absolute
necessity in Christianity. It is the core doctrine of our religion, and
for a number of reasons. Most importatnt is this: without the Incarnation
God would be intolerable. God has created a world in which he allows immense
suffering to occur to individuals and communities all over the world and
throughout time. If God simply observes the suffering that results from
his creation without participating in it himself he would be morally intolerable.
He would not be loving, not merciful, not compassionate. Only by becoming
one of us, one of his own creatures, can God fully exprience what it is
like to be a frightened, suffering, limited being.
It is for this--because God does love the world--that he sent his only Son,
One in Being with the Father, to live on this earth as the human being,