Jesus: the Man, the Myth (Part 2)

We have two major celebrations—Christmas and Easter. The two are vitally interwoven, as the reason Jesus came that Christmas morn is proclaimed in the Resurrection.

In this second part of two-part series concerning Christ's humanity, consider whether it was important for Jesus to be a real person rather than a fictional ideal.

If you haven't read part one, you can do so here.


The importance of His humanity for us

Paul Enns writes, “Christ came in the ‘likeness of sinful flesh’…. He did not come in the mere likeness of flesh—then He would not have been truly human….”[1] Christ’s literal presence in first-century Palestine is vital to the Christian faith. If he did not come in flesh, then the hope of Christianity evaporates.
The Old Testament expected a man, not a distant, impersonal deity. He was the Victor coming as the seed of the woman (see Gen 3:15). He was, in the classic Christmas verse of Isaiah 9:6, a “child… born,” “a son.” He was to be born of the clan of Judah in the town of Bethlehem Ephrathah (Mic 5:2–3). He had to be someone who could bear human grief and sorrow (Isa 53:4). The need for Him to be human is absolute if He was to be a true descendant of David and one who could understand the yoke of humanity.
Wayne Grudem continues this thought. “Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us.”[2]Christ showed us a life dependent upon God by often praying and teaching others to do likewise. Privately, He went to nearby mountains in solitude to spend the night in prayer (see Luke 6:12), and He prayed by Himself in Gethsemane, struggling with God’s will (Matt 26:36–44). Publicly, He prayed before His disciples (Luke 11:1) and the crowds (John 12:28–30). This dependence upon God, coupled with His sinless life, sends a message.
He also spends a chapter praying for His disciples and all who come to faith in Him (John 17). This is consistent with Hebrews’ view of Jesus’ high priestly intercession for believers. Again, this intercession is meaningless unless the Jesus of the first century was not “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). His obedience to God gives us “confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).
Obedience, of course, included dying for our sins. Enns describes the Old Testament expectation of Christ’s death, noting that Jesus cries out Psalm 22:1 from the cross (Matt. 27:46Mark 15:34) and then proceeds through the rest of the Psalm:
Verse 7 describes the passers-by who ridiculed Him (Matt. 27:39). Verse 8 prophesies the actual words of those hurling insults at Him (Matt. 27:43). Verse 16 prophesies the piercing of Christ’s hands and feet (John 20:25). Verse 17 indicates that none of Christ’s bones would be broken (John 19:33–36). Psalm 22:18prophesies the soldiers gambling for Christ’s clothes (John 19:24). Psalm 22:24prophesies Christ’s prayer to the Father concerning His impending death (Matt. 26:39Heb. 5:7). [3]
Enns then describes the violent death of Christ. “Isaiah 52:14 describes the disfigurement of Christ as a result of His scourging (John 19:1). Isaiah 53:5 prophesies the scourging and violent death of Christ (John 19:118). Isaiah 53:7 prophesies the Messiah as a lamb—silent and obedient on the way to death (John 1:29).” [4]
For this to work, Christ would need a body to hang, enduring the ridicule as well as the pain. Christ would need literal hands and feet available for the nails. He would need actual shoulders that bore the garments over which the soldiers gambled. He would need a face with follicles producing the beard the Romans would later tear from Him. He would need a back of flesh and sinew for the scourge. Jesus body, then, was formed in Mary’s womb with these points of the Old Testament overshadowing it.
Perhaps the fact that atonement centralized in Scripture would be meaningless is part of the reason some have sought to disprove Jesus’ existence altogether.

For the sake of devotion alone, Christians should spend more time pondering the importance of Christ’s humanity. We do not always do this because we are often engaged in debate over whether Jesus is God. While we need to fall on the correct side of that debate, we cannot neglect the human who walked, slept, breathed, laughed, wept, and suffered. Canham states that “the incarnation made it possible for Jesus to do as the God-man certain things that were impossible for Him to do as God.” [5]
All must come to grips with the real historical Jesus. He was a real person, not a mythological contrivance to inspire obedience to a worldly institution. He did not appear, as the Gnostics believed, as an apparition lacking substance, vanishing away. In like manner, He was not a phantom, as the modern mind seeks to believe, imagined from old fables to make a pseudo-spiritual statement about making a better world by loving thy neighbor and not littering. He was as corporeal as any other person in the first century. The only difference is that the life He lived meant more to humanity than any individual who has ever lived. It is that Person we all need to grapple with in this life, especially if we are to have hope in the next.



[1] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology. Electronic edition. Logos Libronix Digital Library System, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997, c1989), S. 107.
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 570.
[3] Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology. Electronic edition. S. 220.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Michael McGhee Canham, “Potuit Non Peccare or Non Potuit Peccare: Evangelicals, Hermeneutics, and the Impeccability Debate.” MSJ 11, no. 1 (2000): 114.

Canham, Michael McGhee. “Potuit Non Peccare or Non Potuit Peccare: Evangelicals, Hermeneutics, and the Impeccability Debate.” MSJ 11, no. 1 (2000), 93–114.

Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Electronic edition, Logos Libronix Digital Library System. Chicago: Moody Press, 1997, c1989.

French, Ivan. “The Man Christ Jesus.” Grace Theological Journal 1, no. 2 (1980), 185–94.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Josephus, Flavius. The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston. Chicago: Thompson and Thomas, 1901. Book on-line. Available from,+Antiquities&ei=L4PBSfSMBIHqkwS58uE1. Accessed 18 March 2009.

Tacitus. Annals: Translated into English with Notes and Maps, trans. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. London, McMillan and Co., 1906. Book on-line. Available from,+annals&ei=IXrBSeTtAonAlQSRxNSFCA. Accessed 18 March 2009.

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