Considering the Claims – by Jim

You ask if it is possible to be neutral when considering the claims of Jesus. Two difficulties present themselves to the mind that desires to be neutral. The first is emotional, and the emotions can make it almost impossible to impartially consider the claims of Jesus. If one is attached to Jesus from youth, the idea of investigating the claims made either by Jesus or on his behalf is a difficult one. Because Christianity tells the story of a man rejected by others, it puts one in a position where he feels that he might be rejecting Jesus as well, a feeling which makes one extremely uncomfortable. He feels as if he might be hurting an innocent man, a man that cared about him. In this way, it can seem impossible to impartially consider the claims of Jesus. And similar emotional factors exist for some that do not believe in him, making it difficult for them to remain neutral as well.

The second difficulty in remaining neutral is that the Western World is saturated with Christian ideas. One has trouble reading Tanach without carrying preconceived notions into the text. Of some of these, he may not even be aware. When reading the prophets, for example, he may find himself injecting into the text a Christological interpretation, only because it is in the zeitgeist. It is my opinion that this is what happens with Isaiah 53. When it is presented to people who are unfamiliar with Isaiah, it sounds like Jesus them because of the past 2,000 years of history. Generally, it does not come about because of the familiarity with Isaiah; indeed, readers are often quite ignorant of the rest of Isaiah.

Each of these biases is difficult to overcome, but I believe it can be done to a sufficient degree. Moreover, I believe that in one’s initial inquiry into the claims of Jesus, it must be done. Each task carries its own difficulties. The person with emotional resistance must make up his mind that the truth is more important than his currently held opinions and attachments. He must recognize that if he does not yet know the truth of Jesus’ claims, he does not know what his emotional reaction to Jesus should be. Since he knows that truth is a good and he does not know yet if belief in Jesus is a good, he must attach his emotions to the pursuit of truth. This is a great difficulty, but the second difficulty may be the harder because he may not know what preconceived notions he brings to the text. Therefore, when he reads a text, he must not accept too readily the first idea that comes to his mind, but he must settle down to understanding exactly what the text is talking about. He must take nothing for granted. I believe that these steps can be done and that, though perfect neutrality is probably not possible, one can create for himself enough neutrality to investigate the claims of Jesus.

As to whether one should be neutral in examining Jesus’ claims, I have already written that I think it is important during the initial investigation. Before I explain why, let me define what neutrality is and how the neutral investigator conducts himself.

Neutrality begins with the statement, “I do not know.” Therefore, the first step of the investigator is to educate himself. The impartial investigator must first determine the definition of the Messiah. And, because the definition of the Messiah predates Jesus and the NT, he must ask what was the definition of the Messiah before Christianity. And then he will compare Jesus to that definition. As a neutral party, he will also be forced to consider certain prophecies from Tanach, because part of the Christian proof relies upon such proofs. Therefore, he will need to read those prophecies and the books from which they come. He must review whether or not they mean what the Christian says they mean. And he must ask whether or not he can know Jesus fulfilled them.

The neutral investigator must be cautious not to fall into a trap, however. What happens sometimes is that the investigator does not realize he has dropped his neutrality. He comes to a prophecy and asks: “Does this sound like Jesus?” This is not a proper question. He has already tainted his reading by putting a lens before his eyes, so to speak. He must first just understand the passage, whatever it is talking about. Once he knows the subject matter of a passage and what is taught about that subject matter, then he can make comparisons if necessary.

He must similarly avoid using indefinite passages to impose a reading on the text. He must not take a vague phrase and ‘interpret’ it by inventing a meaning for that phrase. This puts one in the unfortunate position of writing his own Torah. Therefore, he must be willing to admit that he does not know what a phrase means.

After studying and reaching conclusions, the once impartial investigator need not remain emotionally neutral. On the contrary, his emotions should align with his understanding. But he will have to be careful about expressing these emotions to family members that disagree. These matters can be real points of contention. Discussions should be dispassionate, though one cannot be truly neutral anymore.


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1 Response to Considering the Claims – by Jim

  1. Annelise says:

    Some really helpful thoughts, here.

    I think some of the challenge in communicating this is that some people are very analytical, whereas for other people, social intuition is the stronger lens they work through. Both ways of thinking hold both strengths and blind spots in the pursuit of truth. But it seems like each one is speaking a different language to each other.

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