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Is Jesus God? (2)

Historical Existance of Jesus
Do We Have Original Mark's Gospel Account?
Who Wrote Mark's Gospel Account?
Who Is Mark?
Was Peter Really Originator?
Is Peter Trustworthy?


There are three questions I would like to deal with under the topic "Is Jesus God?". They are:

  1. Does New Testament claim that Jesus is God?
  2. Did Jesus claim that he was God?
  3. Is Jesus God?

The second question is addressed in this page.

I have argued in the previous page that the writers of the New Testament regarded Jesus as God and the concept "Jesus is God" was not a creation of Christians in the second century as some claim. I have also shown that the author of Mark's Gospel account described Jesus as claiming to be God. If, then, we can read from the Mark's Gospel account that Jesus claimed to be God, the question whether Jesus did indeed claim to be God or not is the question of whether the author accurately reported what Jesus said and did.

In this page, I argue and show its supporting evidence that the author of Mark's Gospel account is credible and we can be very sure that what he had written about Jesus convey accurately the saying and deeds of Jesus.

The question "Did Jesus claim that he was God?" is also a question about history. I generally consider one can never be able to "prove" history, but can only make judgement on each claim by relying on its supporting evidences, such as anciant literatures, archiorogical discoveries, etc. To quote generally accepted views of the historical characters and literatures, I have relied on information given in Encyclopædia Britannica, whose articles are linked to some of our subjects.

Historical Existance of Jesus

That a man named Jesus, also called Christ, existed in the first century is accepted as a historical fact by majority of scholars. Some extant literatures outside the New Testament and close to the time of Jesus testify his historical existence.

Tacitus, a Roman historian, compiled The Annals in about AD 110 that describes 55 years of the governing of Roman Emperors from Tiberius to Nero. In it, Tacitius wrote about the persecution of Christians under the emperor Nero, in association with the great fire of Rome in AD 64, by which "three were levelled to the ground" and "seven were left only a few shattered, half-burnt relics of houses" out of fourteen districts of Rome. There was a rumor that the fire was ordered by Nero for whatever reasons (that Nero "sang of the destruction of Troy, comparing present misfortunes with the calamities of antiquity" and "was aiming at the glory of founding a new city and calling it by his name.") To escape such accusation, Nero scapegoated Christians.

Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

Tacitus, The Annals, Book 15
Taken from Internet Classics Archive

Several points can be made:

An article in Encyclopædia Britannica lists some other literatures outside the New Testament confirming the historical existence of Jesus.

Do We Have Original Mark's Gospel Account?

Mark's Gospel Account was originally written in old Greek and its autograph, as far as we know, is lost. Many copies were made from the original or copies of the original and various manuscripts have been preserved numbering about 2,000. Older reliable manuscripts of the Mark's Gospel account are dated from 4th century. (Note that the oldest extant textual evidence preserved for any of the New Testament documents is a small papyrus fragment with verses from the John's Gospel account dated early second century, which is preserved in the John Rylands Library).

With great simplification, the development of the manuscripts can be pictured as below.

For each copying process, errors were introduced, some were accidental, while others were obviously intentional. For example, chapter 16 verse 9 following of Mark's Gospel account are not found in the older manuscripts, indicating later addition of the text.

While it is generally agreed that the older manuscripts are more close to the original text, this may not be always the case. For example, as shown in the figure above, "Copy 3" is an older manuscript compared to "Copy 1-B" and "Copy 2-B", however contains some serious errors in some passages.

Although the introduction of the errors was inevitable, the method known as textual criticism has been used to recover the original text as close as possible. In principle, it is assumed that the text is original if all of the extant manuscripts (with correction of apparent errors such as misspelling) witness the same reading. Any significant variations among the manuscripts can be informed, for example, in footnotes. Such variations are small in number, less than 30 verses in Mark's Gospel account, excluding the aforementioned Mark 16:9 followings, according to the New International Version. The other passages can be assumed most confidently as the same as the original text of author's autograph.

An article in Encyclopædia Britannica details textual evidences and scholarly works to recover the original of the New Testament documents. Some versions of original Greek New Testament can be read in The Unbound Bible.

Most readers, as I myself, would not be able to read the original Greek, and need to rely on the translations. A reliable translation aims to express the intention of the original author of the book, in which process correct interpretation of the author's intention is crucial. When the interpretation is not certain, the translators can suggest variant readings of the passage in footnotes, such as in the case of the New International Version. The confidence in translation can be increased by referring to other translations so as to minimise the bias of translators. Correct interpretation of a word can be checked by how the author or other contemporary authors used the word in other passages, while correct interpretation of a phrase can be checked in its context. Any interpretation out of context must be rejected in order not to distort the intention of the original author. By this method, I consider that a reader of the Mark's Gospel account in the language other than the original Greek can also be very close in understanding the claim of the original author.

Who Wrote Mark's Gospel Account?

Mark's Gospel account does not itself explicitly disclose who wrote it. Papias, a disciple of the apostle John, testified in his writing Expositions of Oracles of the Lord that the Mark's Gospel account was written by Mark, an interpreter of the apostle Peter. Some dispute that Papias was not a disciple of apostle John but of John the presbyter, a distinct person from John the apostle, against which I argue its unlikelihood in another page.

Although Expositions of Oracles of the Lord is not extant, Eusebius, a bishop and a historian in fourth century, quoted Papias work in his Ecclesiastical History.

This also the presbyter [John] said: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.
Papias, Expositions of Oracles of the Lord
Quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 39
Taken from Christian Classics Ethereal Library

From what Papias testified, we learn the following:

The word "remembered" indicates that Peter was not with Mark when Mark wrote his Gospel account. A possibility is that Mark wrote his account after Peter was martyred. If "not in order" meant that his Gospel account was not strict in chronological order, this would explain well the differences of the occasions and the order of events between Mark and John's Gospel accounts. For example, the occasion when Jesus drove out business people from the temple was described in later stage of his mission in Mark's Gospel account (Mark 11:15-17) while it was in earlier stage in John's Gospel account (John 2:13-16). John, the apostle and the presbyter being an eye-witness of Jesus' life, should have known the correct chronological order of Jesus' life.

Who Is Mark?

Mark is mentioned several times in the New Testament, from which we learn the following:

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating." 12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door.
Acts 12:11-13 (NIV)
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. 1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. 6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun." Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. 13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.
Acts 12:25-13:13 (NIV)
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
Acts 15:36-40 (NIV)
10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
Colossians 4:10-12 (NIV)
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
Philemon 23,24 (NIV)
9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
2 Timothy 4:9-11 (NIV)
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.
1 Peter 5:12 (NIV)

Was Peter Really Originator?

That Mark's Gospel account was written from the words of Peter can be indicated from the following:

Is Peter Trustworthy?

If what is written in Mark's Gospel account came from words of Peter, there are three options that I can think as follows:

  1. Peter made up Jesus' sayings and deeds (partially or as whole), and he knew he was lying.
  2. Peter somehow misunderstood Jesus' sayings and deeds and reported wrong ideas.
  3. Peter simply reported what he heard and saw.

Of the above three options, I consider as follows:

  1. According to Clement, a bishop in Rome in late first century, Peter suffered martyrdom for what he told people about Jesus.

    But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.
    Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 5
    Taken from Christian Classics Ethereal Library

    That Peter had suffered for what he preached is also evident from the Acts and his letters. I wonder how could anyone tell people something he knows as lies under the threat of death. Also, if he himself were lying, his exhortation "Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind." (1 Peter 2:1) would be very hypocritical. Judging from his virtues expressed in his letters, I consider this very unlikely. Rather it is much probable that he told people what he was convinced as truth.

  2. Many super natural events were reported by Peter, such as Jesus' walking on water, feeding five thousands people, healing diseases and casting out demons, appearance of Moses and Elijah, voice from heaven, and Jesus' resurrection. Such events are too overwhelming to be concluded as "misunderstanding". Also these events were not only witnessed by Peter but by many of Jesus' disciples (about 120 of them right after Jesus resurrection). It is very unlikely that so many people somehow misunderstood Jesus.

    I consider the following words of Peter (and many of his statements in his letters) are hardly of a person easy to be misled.

    9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit ...
    1 Peter 3:9-18 (NIV)
    16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
    2 Peter 1:16-18 (NIV)
  3. Among three options, and if there is no other, I consider this to be the case that Peter simply reported what he heard and saw about Jesus.


According to Papias, Mark's Gospel account was written by Mark, who wrote everything accurately what Peter said about Jesus, although not in order. According to Clement, Peter, who claimed to be an eye-witness of Jesus suffered martyr's death, because of what he claimed about Jesus. Judging from his words and deeds recorded in the reliable acient literatures, I cannot comprehend if Peter was lying or mistaken. Rather, it is most consistently understood if Peter was just simply telling what he had seen and heard about Jesus.

Did Jesus claim to be God? According to Peter, Yes, and not only according to Peter, but also by John, James, Paul, and many other eye witnesses of Jesus, the answer is Yes. The only problem of their claims is that they also reported some extraordinary events, as Jesus walking on the water, feeding five thousands people, raising dead, and being raised from the dead. But what if their claim is just somehow true, that not only Jesus was claiming to be God, but indeed Jesus was and is God? Shouldn't such extraordinary events be ever more appropriate for the God who came into our world?

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Produced by Hajime Suzuki
Special thanks to my wife Louise for her constant encouragement and patience