Truth or Blasphemy

Who do you think Jesus is (or was)? A prophet? A great ethical teacher? Many are attracted to him for these reasons. Those who want to say he was only a good man and great teacher must read the gospels selectively, ignoring what Jesus taught about himself and dismissing key incidents of his birth, life, death and resurrection.

Some sayings of Jesus are outrageous. Much that he said and did, as well as being politically dangerous, was (if not true) religiously blasphemous. The gospel of John is full of discussions where Jesus speaks of God and himself in a way people either don't understand or get angry about.

In John 8, at the end of a heated discussion between Jesus and hostile questioners, Jesus said this, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." Eugene Peterson praraphrases those words as, "Believe me' said Jesus, 'I am who I am long before Abraham was anything.'" That was a step too far for those who saw Jesus as a blasphemer. So "they picked up stones to throw at him..."

C.S. Lewis in 'Mere Christianity' said this:
"A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
The words Jesus used about himself echo the name for God revealed to Moses in the desert, when the sight of a burning bush caused him to take off his sandals and hide his face in the presence of God. You can read the story here.

Moses wanted to know what name he should give when his people aked who had sent him to them. God replied 'I AM WHO I AM'. In other words God is the the ground source of all that is and is beyond what exists in time and space. Beyond what anyone can capture with words, art, music or scientific measurement. If we could, God would not be God.

And yet...the great mystery of the Christian faith is the Incarnation, that God became one of us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I can't pretend to understand that, but I believe it with all my heart. The impossibility of comprehending God, of grasping him with our minds, yet at the same time experiencing the nearness of the God who grasps hold of us and walks with us, is beautifully expressed by Lucy Mills in her poem 'Impossible'. Do take a look.

This post is the 24th in a daily series of Lenten reflections based on one of the Bible readings from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on John 8: 48-59.


  1. mm interesting. I hadn't heard the Lewis quote before. Funnily enough I was in a conversation this morning where someone said Jesus was a good leader and teacher and I didn't even think about it!

  2. Thanks for commenting Red. I found 'Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis tremendously helpful in my young student days when I was struggling a lot with what I believed about Jesus and why. If you look at what Jesus said about himself (according to the gospel accounts) and imagine a great teacher of today that you know making similar claims, would you call them good? Or a megolomaniac or severely deluded?

  3. Great post - only just discovered you'd linked to mine as been away for the weekend - thanks!

    Looking at the words Jesus used about himself - really looking, is mind blowing.

  4. Thanks Lucy. I found the poem in your 'Impossible' post really inspiring. As you say, looking at what Jesus said about himself is mind-blowing. I thought I knew the content of the gospels but almost every time I look at a section at present, something surprises or challenges me. We can so eaily shape Jesus to fit our personal concepts of him - but he refuses to be fitted in to those.


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