From C. S. Lewis to the Synoptic Jesus

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. . . . You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

These famous words by C. S. Lewis beautifully encapsulate the Christianity of my childhood. They underscore how central Jesus’s divinity has been to the church’s confession of faith for the past sixteen hundred years. And they provide a trenchant lens for coming to terms with Jesus as he is depicted in the Gospel of John.

But they also provide a set of blinders that have the power to keep us from ever coming fully to terms with Jesus as he is portrayed in the Synoptic Gospels.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus says very few things that explicitly claim lordship for himself, and none at all that assert preexistence or divinity. John is full of such references, but the Synoptic Gospels seem to be telling a different story.

A Man Attested by God provides some pointers for reconceiving the gospel as a story about Jesus as The Human One, an idealized human figure who plays the roles and performs the functions that Israel’s God always intended for humanity—and Israel, and its kings—to fulfill.

Of course, biblical scholars aren’t usually in the habit of appealing to C. S. Lewis in our exegetical arguments. The case for a divine Jesus in the Synoptic texts has been made through more subtle appeals to the way in which Jesus plays various roles or receives certain honors that have otherwise been reserved for God alone in early Judaism.

This is why the chapter I consider the most important in A Man Attested by Godcontains a lengthy engagement with Judaism. There I show that various strands of biblical and post-biblical Jewish traditions regularly depict idealized humans playing the role of God on earth.

What’s surprising isn’t that Jewish people depicted someone exercising authority over demons (see David/Solomon) or receiving God’s Spirit (see David, again) or multiplying bread (see Elisha) or curing leprosy (see Elisha, again) or claiming to be son of God (see Adam, David, Israel) or son of man (see Israel, Enoch).

What’s surprising in the Gospels is the claim that this particular human being, this crucified Jewish peasant, was celebrated as the one in whom the embodiment of such divine powers had reached its apex. What’s surprising is the claim that the eschatological apogee of human life has already come, in the outskirts of Galilee, and been raised from the dead by the power of God.

My experience in both the church and the academy is that we haven’t gotten very far past the idea that to say “human” is to say something diminutive. The phrase “I’m only human”—so often used as an excuse for weakness and failure—captures the way we immediately think of our humanity as something inherently negative. When it comes to our thinking about Jesus, we too often bring this understanding with us: Jesus became human so that he could be identified with everything that’s wrong in the world, in order that (through his identity as God) it might be fixed.

But what if the idea that humanity is the image of God—that when one looks at a human one comes as close as possible in this life to beholding God’s own face—is not an idea that God has given up on? What if the plan to have a faithful humanity ruling the world on God’s behalf is not a plan that God has abandoned despite the mockery we have so often made of it?

What if a human who is fully and quintessentially human is the one thing that the world actually needed in order to be finally set to rights—and for us to be set to rights upon it?

J. R. Daniel Kirk
J. R. Daniel Kirk

This is the story that I believe the Synoptic Gospels are telling. It’s a story whose dynamic Irenaeus referred to as “recapitulation.” It’s the story of Jesus as the “idealized human figure” that we see on the pages of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. While we turn to John to begin our quest to understanding as the preexistent Word of God made flesh, we turn to the Synoptic Gospels in order to understand the story of Jesus as a man attested by God.




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Reblogged from EerdWord.

Read more from J. R. Daniel Kirk on his Storied Theology blog, and order A Man Attested by God at





Categories: Bible, Biblical scholarship, Christianity, God, Recommended Reading

2 replies

  1. “But what if the idea that humanity is the image of God—that when one looks at a human one comes as close as possible in this life to beholding God’s own face—is not an idea that God has given up on? What if the plan to have a faithful humanity ruling the world on God’s behalf is not a plan that God has abandoned despite the mockery we have so often made of it?” Kirk

    Excellent observations. He came to make us like Him. His goal for each one of us is to reflect His image to all mankind. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.


    • “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;”

      Some Christians care about Jesus and try to obey Him. Some people are Christian in name only and don’t have any sincere interest in the things which are important to Him. IOW, they couldn’t care less. Some really care and do their best and love Him sincerely and follow Him closely. A few, a very few can pray the prayer above with all their hearts. No matter what it takes, no matter the obstacles, both hurtful and/or uplifting, more than all else they long to be like Him. They will settle for nothing less than living through and for the same power which raised Christ from the grave. They realize that to take hold of that power there must be suffering, suffering like Christ experienced and ultimately they choose to go through the process of dying to everything that is unlike Him, to be refined in the crucible of affliction as the dross burns away.

      Chances are you will never see them on television. You probably won’t find them seeking attention for themselves. You are more likely to find them in the background working hard to help teach children with behavior or learning struggles, or in a rest home visiting the infirmed. Maybe you’ll find him under a car fixing it for free because the owner is broke. Once in a while they surface in the media, like Mother Teresa, but that is rare.

      It is difficult not to see God’s image in and on them. They shine.


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