‘You Say That I Am: Jesus and the Messianic Problem’ by Matthew O’Neil

downloadAuthor Matthew O’Neil delivers a look into the past of Christianity with You Say That I Am: Jesus and the Messianic Problem. Thousands and thousands of denominations of Christianity exist globally, all with a different idea of Christ and what it means to be a Christian. All aspects of Christ’s life are discussed within the pages of this phenomenal book; from the origin of Christianity to the veracity of the current Gospels. The book is a compelling case for the existence of a man named Jesus and a case against a divine demigod. I’ve read the works of Carrier and Price, but after reading O’Neil’s book, I certainly believe it is time to revisit my position.

I’ve gotten to know O’Neil over the past few months and can attest to his sincerity and conviction. While he and I may not see eye-to-eye on the existence of Jesus, he certainly gives me the knowledge I need to question whether or not I am correct. Though I still may not feel as though enough evidence supports the claim of a living proselytizer, O’Neil gives comfort to those who do. Some within the atheist community do feel that if they accept that Christ actually lived, they’ve lost the argument against Christianity; O’Neil not only lends credence to the existence of Christ, he decimates the claim of divinity.

Description: What does it mean to say that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah? More importantly, what expectations did Jews have for the promised savior of their people? Was it enough to be a descendant of King David? To perform miracles? To rise from the dead? What, if any, of this criteria did Jesus fulfill and what part of it became an amendment to the job description? The Christian faith has accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah that Judaism promised, and it is a belief that they refuse to shake. But in a world of biblical literalists, who take the Bible as the unedited, uninhibited Word of the Abrahamic God, what they do not know can be damaging to their faith. And perhaps there is a reason they keep it that way. In this critical examination of the alleged exploits of Christ, atheist, historian, and theologian Matthew O’Neil explores the beliefs that gave rise to Christianity, pieces together who the historical Jesus was, and shows how big the Messianic problem really is. (Description taken from Amazon)

I try not to give too much away as I do want everyone to read this book. Below, with O’Neil’s approval, I’ve included an excerpt. The portion comes from the chapter titled Other Messianic Titles, of the section Son Of God. After that, you’ll find the necessary link below. Thanks Matthew, wonderful book!

SON OF GOD

“Son of God” is used on multiple occasions in the New Testament; most notably in Luke 1:32-35 when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” And, in the Gospel of John 1:14, the author reciprocates the same idea, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son…” Or, to use the verse so familiar with Christians in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” However, looking at the use of this title, from its pre-Christian context to that of the New Testament authors, shows that this title does not designate a messianic figure, let alone a savior of the people.

Prior to Christianity, and even Judaism, the title “son of God,” or “son of a god,” was used in many cultures and associated with a number of historical figures. The Roman emperor Augustus took on the title “son of god,” or divi filius, brother who had passed before him were deified.61 Even a figure like Alexander the Great was considered a son of a god, Zeus, and was labeled a “son of god”.62 It should be noted, however, that these titles were literal, and emphasized a link to a biological figure, their actual father, who was deified after his death. The exception being Alexander the Great, who considered himself a child of Zeus and descendant of other demigods from the Greco-Roman religions.

Like the title of “Messiah,” it was used, as it was in Psalm 2:7, to refer to a royal figure. However, the King of Israel who is referred to as “son of God” in Psalm 2:7 was an ordinary human being; there was no divinity, or demi-god, status as was given to Jesus through the use of the titles. God also states in this passage, “…today I have begotten you.” This rules out any idea of an origin of divinity or origins as a deity. It is also used on King Solomon in 2 Samuel 7:14, “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” However, when it is mentioned, there is no divine status or deification; it designates nothing more than a special relationship between the individual and God. The title simply implies that the kingdom was given to the king by God.

The title was also used in pre-Christian Judaism as a title to refer to a collective of people; a society. Looking in areas like Exodus 4:22, where God is addressing Moses and tells him. “Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son.” But continuing on, he tells Moses to tell the Pharaoh, “But you  refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.” Here, God is very clearly speaking of the people of Israel, who are God’s people, and the Egyptians are the firstborn son that God will kill. Or, in Jeremiah 3:19, when God tells a young woman he will honor her by placing her among His sons, or children who are the people of Israel, for an inheritance. This is also seen in Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” This plural form, sons of God, is also used in Psalm 73:15 to refer to pious individuals, and in Malachi 1:6, where God is speaking to priests who are not honoring him.

There is an assumed supernatural affiliation with the title as well. We have seen the title applied to kings, priests, the people of Israel, and people who are designated with a divine plan or instruction from God. However, there is use of it elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible that would appear to suggest a level of divinity. In Genesis 6:1-4, when humanity was multiplying, “…the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose.” Some have argued that the sons of God mentioned here are royal aristocracy, in which case the aforementioned argument of “son of God” being used for royalty would make sense. The only thing that would not make sense, as some scholarship has suggested, was that their punishment was polygamy which, in 4:19 of Genesis, Lamech was not punished for. There are also the concubines that Abraham had in 25:6, Esau in Genesis 26:34 and 28:9, and Jacob in Genesis 31:17. So, it would appear, the authors of Genesis did not have this issue with the taking of multiple wives. Another argument made for any sort of divine status to the title “son of God” in the Hebrew Bible would be the argument that, those mentioned at 6:1-4, are godly Sethites and the “daughters of humankind” are actually ungodly Cainites. Yet, there is no mention of the Sethites as “sons of God,” so this argument seems unlikely. The best, and most likely, argument is that these “sons of God” are angels, as can also be seen in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psalm 29:1; 82:6; 89:7; and Daniel 3:25. However, they are part of God’s court and do his bidding; they have no divine lineage, let alone any to the Abrahamic God. The point is this; there is no assumption of a divine, let alone unique or messianic, status with the affiliation “son(s)/children of God” in the Hebrew Bible.

‘You Say That I Am: Jesus and the Messianic Problem’ (Paperback)

‘You Say That I Am: Jesus and the Messianic Problem’ (Kindle eBook Coming Soon)

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2 thoughts on “‘You Say That I Am: Jesus and the Messianic Problem’ by Matthew O’Neil

  1. A very well-thought out post, but I take a slight issue with your take on Genesis 6. Loyal angels would never have sex with women, and fallen angels would never be called sons of God. Also, at the time Torah was being pieced together from various sources during the Babylonian Vacation, the issue of Jews intermarrying with outsiders had become paramount. Thus the story of the nephilim could have been arranged as a cautionary tale about the bad things that happen when nice Jewish girls marry pagans (it seemed to lead directly to the Flood), much like the way we see little jabs at the Edomites and Moabites from the tale of Lot and his two daughters.

    1. If you’re referencing the excerpt, you’ll want to refer your questions to Matthew O’Neil, author of the book I highlighted. His contact info is at the bottom of the article.

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