Jesus: The Unitarian


Perception and Facts About Jesus

A 2014 poll by the Barna Group of slightly over 2,000 Americans found that 56% of American adults believe Jesus was God;  26% say he was a human religious or spiritual leader like Moses, Mohammed or the Buddha; and 18% are not sure what Jesus was. Not surprisingly, none of the Jews, Muslims or Buddhists polled believed that Jesus was God.

A report by Gallup of a review of over 174,000 interviews conducted in 2015 shows that 75% of American adults identify with a Christian religion, little changed from 2014, but down from 80% eight years earlier. Since 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, but only 56% of them believe that Jesus was Divine, almost a fifth of self-identified Christians are no longer  trinitarians.

About 5-6% of Americans identify with a non-Christian religion. What do they think about Jesus? While many, but not all, Buddhists pray to Buddha; there are no Jews or Muslims who pray to Moses or Muhammad. Indeed, one of the most important teachings in their sacred scriptures, the Hebrew Bible and the Arabic Qur’an, is the prohibition of praying to anyone other than the one and only God.

The Qur'an of Prophet Muhammad, as the last of the world's major Sacred Scriptures, includes within itself statements about Prophet Jesus that differ greatly from the Christian New Testament.

Since the Torah of Prophet Moses and the Psalms of Prophet David preceded the New Testament by many centuries, they contain no statements at all about Jesus, although many Jewish prophets in the Hebrew Bible do have prophecies about a future Messianic redeemer.

Status of Jesus in Judaism and Islam

Jews do not believe the New Testament claims that Jesus was a Messiah, not because he couldn't have been; but because he did not in fact usher in the Messianic Age of world wide peace and justice. Jews wish he had succeeded.

Christians do admit that the world is still not in the Messianic Age, but they believe that someday Messiah Jesus will return again to accomplish that holy goal.

Jews say when they see it they will believe it. However, even if  a future Jesus proves to be a Messianic figure; Jews will not believe that Jesus is or ever was a Divine Son of God.

Judaism and Islam both teach that there is only One God, and therefore God's basic message for humanity, conveyed by God's Messengers, is and has always been basically the same, although many of the details of perspective and practice are different for each Monotheistic religion.

Thus, what Prophets Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad delivered to their followers was essentially the same Message in terms of the nature of God's Oneness and opposition to worshiping idols.

It doesn’t make sense that God would send Messengers like Abraham. Moses, and David to tell people to believe in only one God, and then suddenly send to Jesus a radically different message (the Trinity) which contradicts the monotheistic Unitarian teachings of God's previous Messengers.

Those early sects of Christianity, that believed Jesus was a human Prophet and nothing more, were following the original teachings of Jesus, because their concept of  Unitarian Monotheism was the same as that taught by all the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, called by Christians-the Old Testament.

Jesus, the "Son of Man"

Indeed, Jesus clearly thought of himself not as the “Son of God”, but as the “Son of Man”, a Messianic term. The Aramaic phrase Bar ‘ěnosh' "son of man" is a Semitic expression denoting a single member of humanity, a certain human being. This Aramaic phrase is used by Daniel (7:13-14) to describe a Messianic figure riding with the clouds of the sky.

In the four Gospels, “the Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. The term "the Son of Man" appears 81 times in the Greek text of the four Gospels: thirty times in Matthew, twenty five times in Luke, 14 times in Mark (the shortest of the Gospels), and 12 times in John (the latest and least historical of the Gospels).

Yet in Paul's epistles, “Son of Man” is never used for Jesus. In fact, the term “Son of Man” appears in the whole New Testament only 4 times (5%) outside of the Gospels. Paul does briefly mentions meeting "James, the Lord's brother" in a letter to the Galatians: “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.” (Galatians: 1:19-20)

Indeed, in early extra-biblical Christian writings during the generations following Paul's letters; the term “Son of Man” that Jesus preferred for himself, is never used at all. Although the oldest surviving Christian liturgy, the Liturgy of St James, also calls James "the brother of God”.

I am a Reform Rabbi who has studied Christianity and Islam for almost 60 years. I am in full agreement with the Qur'an's teachings about God.

But when I read the four Gospels and Paul's letters, I find many things that I cannot believe because they conflict with the Torah of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets of Israel.

Yet even within the Gospels there are examples that show that Jesus actually preached the same moral and religious message of Monotheism that the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible preached.

The Oneness of God

A passage in the Gospel of Mark which really emphasizes the core message of Prophet Jesus occurs when a man came to Jesus and asked “Which is the first (most basic) commandment of all?” Jesus answered, “The first (most basic) of all the commandments is Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’’(Mark 12:28).

So the greatest commandment, the most important belief according to Jesus is that God is one. If Jesus was the Divine “Son of God” he would have said ‘I am part of the triune God, worship me’, but he didn’t. He merely repeated a verse from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4) which Jews repeat every day during their prayers, confirming that God is One.

In another Gospel (Luke) “a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, “Rabbi, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. (Deuteronomy 6:5) And your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)

Note, Jesus did not say that you need to believe in the 'Son of God', in order to inherit eternal life (heaven or the world to come). Jesus just affirmed two verses in the Torah that say people need to love God intensely; and love their neighbors as much as they love themselves.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus does not even mention that the requirement to love God be directed to the one and only God. But he was speaking to Jews, and Jesus knew they were committed to monotheism.

The Gospel of Matthew also reports the same question about the most important basic commandment in the Torah: “Rabbi, which commandment in the Torah is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18) These two commandments support the whole Torah and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-4

Again note that Jesus says nothing about loving a Divine “Son of God” or anyone else attached to his father in heaven, because Prophet Jesus was a unitarian, as were all the Jews who Jesus spoke to about his 'father in heaven’, and they understood that this term was a metaphor, not to be taken literally, the way the pagans meant it.

When, after his death, the words of Jesus were spread out to the world of the Greeks and Romans, most of them did take these words literally, and started believing that Jesus himself was a Divine human being like the Greek (Hercules) and Roman (Aesculapius); human heroes who became Gods.

This is why the use of the term “Son of Man” that Jesus himself preferred, disappeared from Christian Trinitarian usage in the generations after Jesus was gone.

 

Rabbi Maller's web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon.


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