"For God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believe in him will have everlasting life"
There is little in the way of historical documentation for Jesus' life beyond the Gospels, and those were probably not written by eyewitnesses. This makes it very difficult to know the historical facts behind Christian stories about him. However, this has not stopped scholars from defending specific views of who Jesus was.
Some atheists consider discussion of a historical Jesus to be a red herring. They argue that, while a person named Jesus may or may not have existed, there is clearly no reason to believe that he had special powers, was the son of God, or performed miracles. Even if it could be firmly established that Jesus the man existed, this would not be evidence for the extraordinary claims that make up the foundation of the Christian religion.
The Apocalyptic Jesus View
The Apocalyptic Jesus refers to the hypothesis that Jesus believed the world would end within his lifetime, and is based on numerous passages within the Gospels, such as Mark 13, where Jesus at least seems to express such a view. It makes sense within the context of the general apocalyptic fervor of the time, as well as the beliefs of John the Baptist and early Christians such as Paul and the author of Revelation. Its most famous proponent was Albert Schweitzer, and since the publication of his book The Quest of the Historical Jesus in 1906, it has been embraced by a large number of Biblical scholars. Modern proponents include Dale Allison, Bart Ehrman, Gerd Ludemann, and E. P. Sanders.
The Great Teacher View
Scholars who believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher tend to argue against the historicity of passages where Jesus predicts the end of the world. The most prominent example of this view is the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar argued that there are passages in the Gospels where Jesus expressed the view that the Kingdom of Heaven was not something that was coming through radical future changes but existed at the time in a spiritual sense. Such sayings, the argument goes, would not have been invented by later, apocalyptically oriented Christians, and are therefore more likely to be historical than sayings where the Kingdom of Heaven is portrayed as a radical future upheaval.
The Mythic View
While in a minority in Biblical scholarship circles, a few well-publicized writers have argued that Jesus probably never existed. Examples include G. A. Wells and Earl Doherty. A major argument against the historicity of Jesus is that Paul's letters seem to show no awareness of such an individual. This is disputed by other scholars, however, who argue that Paul's letters contain clear references to a historical Jesus.
Miracles of Jesus
There is almost no evidence for the miracles of Jesus outside the hearsay reports of the Gospels. For this reason, there is no basis for accepting that he worked actual miracles. On the other hand, faith healings an exorcisms happen today, though investigations show there is no reason to regard them as actual supernatural events. This suggests a possibility that Jesus was a fraudulent or self-deceived wonder worker and there were witnesses who really believed they had seen him work miracles.
Unlike Jesus' other miracles, Paul mentions post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in I Corinthians. Unlike the Gospels, I Corinthians probably was written by its traditionally assigned author. However, the reference provides no better evidence for the resurrection than the evidence for angelical authentication of the Book of the Mormon. It is also not the sort of evidence that many psychical researchers would demand for the existence of ghosts or telepathy.
Morals of Jesus
Many Christian apologists have claimed that the high quality of Jesus' moral teachings is undisputed and is evidence of his divinity. However, Jesus' status as a moral teacher has been disputed on many occasions.
In Why I Am Not a Christian, Bertrand Russell argued that while many of Jesus' teachings were good, the Gospels clearly portray him as believing in eternal punishment, and this is unbecoming of a truly humane person.
Ancient historian Richard Carrier has argued thatt the Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus was a better moral teacher than Jesus. Among other things, Carrier cites Rufus' belief in equality for slaves and his belief that "freedom of speech means not suppressing whatever one chances to think."
In chapter 7 of his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins praised Jesus because he "was not content to derive his ethics from the scriptures of his upbringing... Since a principle thesis of this chapter is that we do not, and should not, derive our morals from scripture, Jesus has to be honoured as a model for that very thesis." However, Dawkins criticizes New Testament ethics on the issues of original sin and Jesus' demand that people must abandon their families to follow him.
It should be noted that some secularists hold very positive views of Jesus' ethics. For example, there is a website called Atheists for Jesus whose stated mission is "to provide a method of communication between religious and nonreligious people who believe in the message of love and kindness put forth by Jesus" and which argues that Jesus' actual teachings were at odd with the stance of modern Christian fundamentalists.
"Jesus" is the anglicised version of the Latin Iesus, from the Greek Iesous, from the Aramaic Ieshua/Yeshua, from which we get the modern westernised name Joshua.
"Christ" is the anglicised version of the Greek word christos, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach (Messiah), meaning "[one who is] anointed". Contrary to the popular opinion, Christ isn't a reference to Jesus' family or surname in the modern western tradition. Christ refers to the state of being "annointed" (a common reference to being a teacher or priest or some form of authority). Many Christian sects refer to him as Christ Jesus.
More precisely, he should be referred to as Jesus the Christ. As a person, he is normally referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, although this obviously contradicts the tradition that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
- Funk, Robert W., Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. MacMillian 1993
- Miller, Roberet J. (editor). The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate. Polebridge Press 2001