Was Jesus Made God After The Three Synoptic Gospels Were Written?

In a recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Jimmy Akin, Bart claimed (in seconds 30:23-30:47) that Jesus never referred to Himself as God in the three synoptic gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKShBLRixR8&t=8137s). Bart claims that only in the later written gospel of John do we find Jesus claiming to be God, the “I AM”, the one with the Father, and the image of the Father (John 14). As such, Bart concludes that Christianity started with Jesus as the Messiah and gradually kept elevating Jesus to be God Himself. Is this claim really true? Well, not really because of two main reasons. 

First, the earliest written text in the New Testament are the letters of St. Paul. It is well known that Paul’s undisputed letters were written even before the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark. In the letters of Paul, we find abundant evidence that Christians believed that Jesus was God, and therefore, the Gospel of John didn’t invent the divinity of Jesus. For example, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he stated: 

“And without controversy great is the [a]mystery of godliness: 

God was manifested in the flesh

Justified in the Spirit, 

Seen by angels, 

Preached among the Gentiles, 

Believed on in the world, 

Received up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16). 

Paul was clear that Jesus was God manifested in the flesh. He also confirmed that Jesus was fully God by stating that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9-10). There are many more verses from Paul’s letters that indisputably establish the divinity of Jesus. 

Second, in contrast to Bart’s claim, Jesus’ divinity is clearly established in the Synoptic gospels alone. The earliest gospel, the gospel of Mark, starts with the claim that Jesus is the Son of God “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1), and that Jesus is the Lord:  

“As it is written in the Prophets: 

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, 

Who will prepare Your way before You.” 

3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 

Prepare the way of the Lord

Make His paths straight.” (Mark 1:2-3) 

Mark records that even the demons knew that Jesus was God when he healed a possessed man. The demons shouted: “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24). Jesus certainly didn’t deny such a confession. The Scribes knew that Jesus acted like God when he forgave the paralyzed man as they thought in their hearts “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Jesus also challenged the Pharisees when he “answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?  For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: 

‘The Lord said to my Lord, 

“Sit at My right hand, 

Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ 

Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?” (Mark 12:35-37). 

In conclusion, the claim that the gospel of John elevated Christ to become God is not true. Paul’s letters, which were written earlier than the gospels, confirm the doctrine that Jesus is God. In addition, there are numerous claims and actions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels that confirm that Jesus is God, the Son of God, and the Son of Man.  

Were The Gospels Written By Actual Eyewitnesses Of Jesus?

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman claimed that: “Even though we might desperately want to know the identities of the authors of the earliest Gospels, we simply don’t have sufficient evidence. The books were written anonymously and evidently not by eyewitnesses.”  

Now that we have answered this question and confirmed the identities of the authors of the Gospels, can we really be sure that those authors were actual eyewitnesses of Jesus? 

The first followers of Jesus also understood the importance of reliable eyewitnesses, especially when they began to claim that Jesus had returned from the dead. This claim is, after all, quite incredible. As a result, early Christians cherished eyewitness testimonies about the resurrection. 

Two New Testament Gospels specifically claim that eyewitness reports formed the foundation for what they had to say about Jesus. ‘”These things were handed down to us,” the preface of the Gospel According to Luke declares, “by those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning.” (Luke 1:2 ; see also Acts 1:22). And St. John’s Gospel announced with utmost sincerity, “The one who saw this has testified-his testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth” (John 19:35; see also 21:24). Around A.D. 160, an unknown writer in Rome recorded an oral tradition that backed up these claims. According to this author, Luke based his Gospel on personal interviews, presumably with eyewitnesses, and the Fourth Gospel represented the eyewitness testimony of the apostle John. 

The other two Gospels don’t specifically claim to come from eyewitnesses, but early Christians believed that these writings represented eyewitness testimony. Writing from Asia Minor in the early second century, Papias of Hierapolis affirmed that Mark’s Gospel preserved Peter’s eyewitness testimony and that the apostle Matthew was responsible for the Gospel that bore his name. A few years later, lrenaeus of Lyons – the leading pastor in an area known today as northern France – linked each New Testament Gospel to an eyewitness of the resurrected Lord. Justin Martyr – a defender of Christian faith, writing from Rome in the mid-second century – referred to a quotation from Mark 3:16-17 as coming from the “recollections of Peter.” Around A.D. 200, Tertullian of Carthage put it this way: “We present as our first position, that the Gospel testimony has apostles for its authors, to whom the Lord himself assigned the position of propagating the Gospel. There are also some that, though not apostles, are apostolic-they do not stand alone; they appear with and after the apostles.” So, St. John and St. Matthew, of the apostles, first instill faith into us while the apostolic writers St. Luke and St. Mark renew it afterwards. 

As we can see, from the first century onward, a consistent strand of Christian tradition tied the truth of the New Testament Gospels to eyewitness testimony.  

Is The Fine Tuning Of The Universe An Evidence For The Existence Of God?

If you gaze at the universe with a curious eye, you would find wonder on every level, our universe is a true masterpiece! This, when viewed through the eyes of faith, we see a personal God crafting a complex universe that includes our life-giving home, the Earth. But does science see the same thing? To answer this question, we shall discuss the concept of the fine tuning of the universe.  

What does “fine tuning” mean? 

Fine tuning in itself does not mean that there is a designer behind the creation of the universe. However, what it does scientifically mean is that the universe is held by physical constants within a very narrow range that permits life to exist. One clear example of this is the gravitational force constant (G), which is the large scale attraction force that holds people on earth, and holds planets, stars, and galaxies together. If these gravitational constants varied by just 1 part in 10^60 (one in ten to the sixtieth parts) none of us would exist.  

The odds that all the physical constants that hold the universe exist as we have them now is 1 to 10^120 (that is one in ten to the one hundred and twentieth). To put that into perspective, the number of atoms in the universe is 1 to 10^80

Given the extremely low probability that these physical constants were randomly orchestrated and calibrated to permit life to exist, there is a case to be made that there must be an intelligent mind that deliberately fine tuned the universe to enable life to exist. 

There are a few objections to this argument though that we will discuss here. 

First objection: The term “fine tuning” means that there is a designer behind the formation of the universe. 

Reply: According to the book “A Fortunate Universe” by Geraint Lewis and Luke Barnes, fine tuning is defined as a technical term borrowed from physics and refers to the contrast between a wide range of possibilities and a narrow range of a particular outcome or phenomenon. So, by “fine-tuning” one does not mean “designed” and the term itself has nothing to do with intentional planning or intelligence, but it simply means that the physical constants of the universe fall into an exquisitely narrow range of values which make our universe life-permitting.  

Second objection: The physical constants are not fine-tuned, so this whole fine-tuning theory isn’t real.  

Reply: When scientists quantify their observations, they notice that the laws of nature follow a certain set of numerical values that are consistent across space and time. These values are known as physical constants and they appear to provide symmetry across the universe. If there is a slight change in any of the many constants, life wouldn’t exist.  

One clear example of this is the gravitational force constant (G), which is large scale attractive force, holds people on planets, and holds planets, stars, and galaxies together, if this constant varied by just 1 part in 1060 (one in ten to the sixtieth parts) none of us would exist.  

Another example is the Cosmological constant, which controls the expansion speed of the universe, the cosmological constant must be fine-tuned to something like 1 part in 10^120. So, a change in its value by mere one part in ten to the one hundred twentieth parts would cause the universe to expand too rapidly or too slowly which would make the universe life-prohibiting.  

In addition to these two constants, there are many other constants that must be fine-tuned and any slight change in the value of one of them would result in a lifeless universe. Some of these physical constants include: the velocity of light, the mass of the electron, electromagnetism coupling constant, and many others.  

Aside from the physical constants, there are many well-established examples of fine-tuning which are widely accepted even by scientists who are generally hostile to theism and design. For instance, Stephen Hawking, in the book “A Brief History of Time” has admitted: “The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” 

So, the fact that the universe is able to support life depending on various of its fundamental characteristics, notably on the form of the laws of nature, on the values of some constants of nature, and on aspects of the universe’s conditions in its very early stages, is what science and renowned scientists agree on.  

Third objection: God isn’t the one who fine-tuned the universe and designed it to host life. Fine tuning could be due to necessity or chance.  

Reply: First, let’s talk about physical necessity. According to this alternative, the universe has to be life-permitting. The constants and the quantities had to have the values that they do. It is literally physically impossible for the universe to be life-prohibiting. It is physically necessary that the universe be a life-permitting universe. Truth is, there is no reason or evidence to suggest that fine-tuning is necessary! In the book “God and Design,” Paul Davies states that “There is not a shred of evidence that the Universe is logically necessary. Indeed, as a theoretical physicist I find it rather easy to imagine alternative universes that are logically consistent, and therefore equal contenders of reality”. So, blind necessity isn’t something to consider behind fine-tuning.  

Secondly comes the chance or in other words coincidence. Supporters of this fallacy claim that constants of nature and initial conditions have arbitrary values, and it is just a matter of coincidence that all their actual values turn out to enable life. The idea of “lucky accidents” or chance is simply absurd. Why? Think about this: If you found an aquarium in your house, with water and plants and food in the right combination required to keep goldfish alive, wouldn’t you reasonably infer that someone put it there because they wanted to pet goldfish, rather than the possibility that all of this occurred by accident?  Similarly, the universe has ended up with a “little aquarium” for humans namely, our earth. So it is much more reasonable to suppose that, rather than being an accident, things were set up deliberately to allow for this development. 

As astronomer Fred Hoyle wrote: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.”  And the physicist Freeman Dyson wrote: “The more I examine the universe, and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the Universe in some sense must have known we were coming.” Then, do we really need to consider chance as a cause for fine-tuning?  

Fourth objection: Perhaps we live in a multiverse where there are a set of parallel universes with differing laws, constants, and initial conditions and that one universe happened to permit life and that we just happened to exist in that very universe.  

Reply: The biggest question for the multiverse is, “Is this science?”  It is highly improbable that we could ever do any measurements of another universe, at least at the moment, as it is inaccessible to us. Cosmologists themselves debate whether the multiverse is in the realm of science. Even if the multiverse theories are right, they still wouldn’t eliminate fine-tuning.  

At last, only a morally perfect God would value life! This God, who especially created human beings with free will and ensured that the universe’s physical laws, constants and initial conditions allowed for their existence, is the one who carefully fine-tuned our universe.  

What Is The Orthodox View On The Solus Christus Doctrine?

Solus Christus, the teaching that “Christ alone” is the means to salvation, was formulated in response to the strongly mediatorial understanding popular among sixteenth-century Roman Catholic clergy that only through the clergy can man approach God.  

Solus Christus and Priesthood 

The fear is that a fallible human being would presume to stand between a believer and God, that a priest could actually prevent someone from having access to salvation. This idea is similar to Donatism which was a Christian sect leading to a schism in the Church, in the region of the Church of Carthage, from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. But instead of a denial of the efficacy of the sacraments from a particularly wicked priest, Protestants denied priesthood altogether because of the fallibility of the clergy. In the sense that the Reformers usually meant it, that salvation is possible only in and through Christ.  

Solus Christus is acceptable to Orthodox and Catholic doctrine but not the  accompanying rejection of the clerical role, and most especially in serving the sacraments. Some reformers emphasized the “priesthood of all believers” to the exclusion of the sacerdotal priesthood, thereby pitting the laity against the clergy. Orthodoxy also believes in the priesthood of all believers, but not in the eldership (the meaning of the presbyterate) of all believers. Ancient Israel had a similar notion for all believers: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6, NKJV) yet Israel still retained a sacrificial priesthood to carry out the temple worship. The clergy has a role to play in salvation as the ministers of the sacraments, as the ones who are icons of Christ in offering up the sacrifice, but it is not an absolute role. God may save someone despite the wickedness of a priest, and we regard all believers as icons of Christ and members of the royal priesthood.  

Solus Christus and Saints 

Solus Christus, was also a response to the intercession of departed saints, since “Christ alone” has everything to do with salvation. Orthodox and Catholic churches don’t see departed saints as people who speak to God because we can’t. They are fellow believers whom we call alongside us to pray with us and for us.  We believe that departed Saints are alive in Paradise and are the triumphant members of the same one church in which we are militant members. We are all members of the Church, which is the one Body of Jesus Christ. The triumphant become invisible members because of the death of their bodies, and the ones still in material flesh are the visible ones. In God’s sight, we are all a visible holy family. Saints departed from earth, but did not leave the church; their love toward their brothers did not cease by their departure and dwelling in Paradise. Their prayers for the salvation of all the world never cease. They pray for us, and we venerate them as they are our holy and dear friends. The intercession of Saints doctrine is based on Scripture. We ask for the intercessions of the saints, as Jacob did when he asked for the intercessions of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac “Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you” (Gen. 32:9, NKJV). Moses asked for the intercession of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ So, the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” (Exod. 32:13-14, NKJV). We Believe the Saints are not dead and they have special privileges in front of God as Our Lord and Savior taught “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:36-38, NKJV). 

What Is The Orthodox View Of The Sola Gratia Doctrine?

The teaching of sola gratia is that it is only God’s grace that accomplishes salvation. No act of man contributes to salvation in any way. This doctrine is closely associated with sola Fide, as faith is what activates saving grace. Sola gratia holds that man has absolutely no role in his salvation. That is, God saves you whether you want it or not. He also damns you whether you want it or not. This view is called monergism (“one actor,” i.e., God). These two actions together are called double predestination—both the saved and the damned are predestined to their fates. In this case, both faith and grace are gifts from God and do not involve man’s will in any way.  

Most sola gratia believers are not this extreme, however; they believe that man must at least assent to salvation at some point, even if only once. Sola gratia disregards the doctrine of free will that God granted mankind from the beginning of creation. Orthodoxy believes in synergism, that God and man are co-workers: “We then, as workers together with Him, also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain” ( 2 Cor. 6:1, NKJV).  

One of the principal problems with sola gratia is that grace is understood as something other than God Himself. In Reformation theology, grace is “unmerited favor,” an attitude in God, often contrasted with His wrath. For Orthodoxy, grace is uncreated, grace is God, His actual presence and activity. But if grace is merely “favor,” then union with God (theosis) is precluded. 

The Doctrine Of The Trinity From The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers were the early leaders of the Church from the second century to the fourth century CE. Their writings demonstrate a clear understanding of the Trinity of God as taught in the New Testament. Below are some examples: 

Saint Ignatius of Antioch 

Early reference to the Trinity was mentioned in the Epistle of Saint Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians, written around 108 CE. He exhorted believers to live in obedience to “Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit” (Ignatius’s Letter to the Magnesians, Chapter 8) 

The Didache  

The Didache, or the teachings of the twelve Apostles, dated late first century, directs Christians to “baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  

Saint Clement of Rome (c. 35-99) 

Saint Clement of Rome mentioned the Trinity in his writings as well. He rhetorically asks in his epistle as to why corruption exists among some in the Christian community; “Do we not have one God, and one Christ, and one gracious Spirit that has been poured out upon us, and one calling in Christ?” (1 Clement 46:6).  

The first apology Justin martyr (100-165 AD) 

In chapter 61 on Christian Baptism from Justin’s first apology, he mentioned “the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit” starting with the trinity doctrine in a second century writing.  

Justin Martyr is the first to use much of the terminology that would later become widespread in codified Trinitarian theology. For example, he describes that the Son and Father are the same “being” (ousia) and yet are also distinct faces (prosopa), anticipating the three persons (hypostases) that come with Tertullian and later authors. 

The Consequences Of The Sexual Revolution

By the middle of the twentieth century, Americans adopted a liberal attitude towards sex. There were two famous books that perhaps marked the turning point: “Sexual Behavior and the Human Male” (1948) and “Sexual Behavior and the Human Female” (1953) authored by Alfred Kinsey. This was the beginning of what is called “the sexual revolution.” 

The sexual revolution was a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the United States and the developed world from the 1960s to the 1970s. Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional natural heterosexual, monogamous relationships (primarily marriage). The normalization of contraception and the pill, public nudity, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, masturbation, alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed. Also, it was marked by more talk of sex and more education for young people, so they would not grow up with sexual “neuroses” like their parents.  

Now, western societies that had adopted such liberal attitude towards out of order sexual behaviors are suffering the consequences of their choices. The consequences are rampant adultery and divorce, increasing child molestation and organized pedophilia, widespread prostitution and pornography, militant homosexuality, more than 25 sexually transmitted diseases, millions of unwanted pregnancies leading to abortion, and the increasing disintegration of the family unit and with it the disintegration of society in general. Since the beginning of HIV, 79.3 million [55.9–110 million] people have been infected and 36.3 million [27.2–47.8 million] people have died of HIV. Globally, 37.7 million [30.2–45.1 million] people were living with HIV at the end of 2020. An estimated 0.7% [0.6-0.9%] of adults aged 15–49 years worldwide are still living with HIV.

Is It Enough To Lead A Good Moral Life To Go To Heaven?

Let us begin our article by thinking about the scene of the older son in Christ’s parable of the Prodigal Son who was furiously saying…  

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (Luke 15:29) 

Now, let’s contemplate his expressions… “I’ve been slaving for you” and “never disobeyed you” …  such an unfair father, right? How can someone be so loyal, so good and just… so perfect and not being “appreciated enough” by his father … Simply, this is the ultimate debate of is it enough to be good to go to heaven? But before we dive into the topic, let us state a few biblical truths that the church had believed in and lived with for 2,000 years now.  

First, the question of who gets saved and who doesn’t isn’t ours to answer, it is God’s simply because He created the universe, and He alone judges humans: “the Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). 

Second, the Bible states that the “absolute goodness” just doesn’t exist. “They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). So people may appear as “righteous” or “flawless” yet they are not that good and they would still need salvation “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). 

Third, the will of God is made crystal-clear in the Bible which states that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). So it is in God’s heart to save the people He created because simply He loves them.  

With that being set, let us tackle the most celebrated points of view that support the claim that “yes being good is actually enough to go to heaven.”  

Claim: Some religions like “Hinduism” and “Buddhism” and others call for highly ethical and extremely virtuous behaviors that many people label as “good behaviors” or “spiritual” ones such as yoga and other forms of meditation. Wouldn’t such spirituality lead to salvation? 

Response: Let us be honest and say that many of these “spiritual” acts like meditation look similar to meditation in Christianity and are practiced to refine one’s behavior. Yet, they do not lead to heaven as these practices totally exclude the name of Lord Jesus and the necessary faith in Him to be saved. Such meditations are done outside of Him and as the bible says in Romans 10:13 “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. So, any of these practices should include faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order for it to help us be good or lead us to heaven. This claim is also defective as these so-called “spiritual practices” do not work on strengthening the faith in the first place as it is essential for entering heaven as explained in Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him”.  

Claim: The relationship between a person and God is a private one, it is kind of secretive, and it’s definitely not for us to judge  

Response: Let us observe the term that the Bible uses which is “Inherit the kingdom of God” in 1 Corinthians 6:10 and the story of Noah in “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” This notion of “kingdom of God” and the story of Noah explain the concept of heaven not just as a private matter. It is given through belonging to the Father through a solid relationship between God and man and not a secretive one. It involves one’s worshiping of God with his/her family in church.   

Claim :  Jesus Himself didn’t reach out to all people, some heard of Him and others simply did not. The same thing applies for modern/current times. Many people do not know who Jesus is so it’s certainly unfair for these people to be doomed.   [Text Wrapping Break] 

Response: God is a fair and a loving Father, He asserted in the Bible that “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness” (Acts 14:17). His love and delight for man to be saved is reflected in so many shapes and forms. God sends His people, and sometimes angels, as in the case of Lot, and sometimes He Himself appears to people, as in the case of St. Paul just to show people who seek Him the Truth and save them as in John 18:37 “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice”. So the idea of God just forgetting about His Beloved people, the people He created is just not the case.  

At last, let us finalize our article with the claim by St. John the Baptist that “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).