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Was Jesus God?
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2012
Was Jesus God?

Compared to Swinburne's earlier book "Is There A God?", I found "Was Jesus God?" very disappointing. This book, at least to me, reads more like a straightforward book of conservative Christian apologetics than one written by a renowned philosopher of religion. The first half of the book (87 pages) really amount to a "scissors and paste" abbreviated account from his earlier works, with the remaining 70 pages only devoted to Jesus. The latter contain nothing really new that cannot be found elsewhere in traditional conservative works on Christian apology. Moreover they appear not to have been worked out in length, let alone in depth. It is a given, that any account of the life or significance of Jesus must rely largely if not almost exclusively on the writings of the New Testament. However most historians would not give equal credence to the historical value of the various New Testament documents, and this applies even to the four documents known as Gospel's. Even the most superficial reading of the words of Jesus in say Mark's Gospel would cast doubt on whether the same person is being reported as in John's Gospel, but Swinburne seems to ignore this and seems to treat the historical value of the various New Testament documents almost equally. Reference was made earlier to his rather superficial handing of themes and this can be illustrated in his account of the Virgin Birth. Obviously there are considerable scientific objections that would be expected to be mentioned, if not addressed by an eminent philosopher of religion. However these are completely ignored. For example, if Jesus was a man like all other men he would possess both an X and a Y chromosome. The X chromosome would be inherited from Mary, but where did Jesus acquire his Y chromosome from? Such a difficulty is not even mentioned by Swinburne. It has often been said that philosophical arguments for God's existence really only convince those who already believe. The same might be said for such arguments supporting a High Christology for Jesus. This book is unlikely to convince many who do not already hold settled views on the status and soteriological significance of Jesus. Fortunately for many believers our beliefs can stand without purported philosophical superstructure. If they did require one, I doubt if it could be found in this volume.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 13 February 2010
As with all Swinburne's books this is a tightly argued piece of work. Within its own terms it is convincing, but general readers are likely to find it somewhat arid.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2011
I find Swinburne's treatise remarkably internally consistent, although it has to be read slowly in a thoughtful manner, as some of the sentences are a bit complicated. Given his premises, and his well founded view upon the Gospels and letters, the conclusions seem sound!
Consistency does not prove that the conclusions are true, buy implies that they may well be true. Not any of the sayings of Dawkins and his disciples are useful in denying the consistency in Swinburne's approach.
The book is highly recommended.

Sincerely
Magne Kongshaug
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9 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 29 January 2009
How should one approach this book? It is a book about religion but it was written by an author acclaimed to be a philosophical theologian. In this book Richard Swinburne ("RS") sets out, not to preach, but to prove, a Christian assertion, namely that Jesus is God (this assertion is part of the Trinitarian doctrine although Unitarian Christians will not agree to this assertion). That being the case, this book must be approached philosophically and rationally, that is, we need to cast faith and belief aside for they lay in the domain of the church, not in the house of philosophy.

The issue or question that RS sought to answer was: "Was Jesus God" (the use of the past tense is puzzling, but of no great importance for this review)? He realised that the question makes no sense unless "God" itself is proved. He has not done that in the book (nor in his other book, "Is there a God?" 1996 Oxford University Press). He merely made assumptions that "God" exists. From such a premise, the arguments would naturally become irrelevant, and the conclusion weak and fallible (since God was assummed and not proved, the issue whether Jesus was God lost all its significance). However, it is still useful to see some of the methods he employed in the author's argument (which was largely based on assumptions and reliance on second degree hearsay evidence). In the very first page he says that he refers to God as "he" even though "God is neither male nor female." How does he know that? Do all Christians agree with his statement? It is an example of the kind of unproven assertions that the author made throughout the book. He forgot that it was Jesus who taught us to pray "Our Father who art in Heaven" he didn't say "Our Mother" or "Our Parent". RS's reasoning shows up deep flaws in his thesis. He said (pg 6-7) that humans have bodies but God does not need a body. What does the author think resurrection mean then? If Jesus were to rise bodily from the grave, then we have a situation that part of the trinity is organic body, and part of it (God) not. If Jesus did not rise bodily, then his rise to heaven was not a resurrection. He just went the same way all good Christians are supposed to go after death - in spirit.

His claims about God giving us "free will" can be challenged. There is insufficient space in this review for a full counter-argument so I shall merely pose a couple of questions that intelligent and rational minds can work out for themselves. First, why give us free will in this short human life to choose God and heaven, and then, when in heaven, deprive us of our identity and free will to choose the things we have liked all our lives - our food, our music, our spouses - everything. They will all be taken away and we will be made to no longer like them. Where's our choice then? Secondly, it seems that God himself does not have free will because if he had, then he cannot be all good since (being all powerful)he can choose to create the best possible world, that is, one without evil. A God who is all good would not have created evil of any kind, whether evil is defined as a murderous intent, or a tsunami, or an earthquake, or even cancer cells. I would not do so if I had the power; would you?

RS relied on the declarations in the Nicene Creed, but that was a compromise arrived at by the bishops in a tumultuous period in Christian history. It sought to have unity and consistency, but it was not fully successful because to this day, there are many Christians who either reject it or have very different interpretations of it from that of others. RS wrote about the "atonement" and the support he gathered came mainly from Paul, who never met Jesus and knew nothing and said nothing about the crucifixion and resurrection. Paul's letters and his own evidence came largely from the stories of others. It is hearsay upon hearsay; such evidence would be rejected as unreliable for proving any fact, let alone an important assertion of fact that Jesus is God. Even Paul's own conversion was a dubious event. He could well have been blinded by heatstroke and, having recovered, believed he was chosen by God - but that is another story.

RS then discussed the resurrection, and here the philosopher in him regressed into the theologian. He accepted the accounts in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John as true. In so doing, he ignored biblical scholarship that points out all the fallibilities and inconsistencies in these gospels. Even the lay reader can, if he were patient, compare the birth, death, and resurrection accounts in these gospels, and discover the inconsistencies and contradictions in them. Unless the contradictions are cleared, how can they be relied upon as a basis to answer the question posed? RS asserted that any religious revelation required "an interpreting body" which he said was "the church". At this point, only one question needs to be asked - which church? The fallibility of the Nicene Creed was exposed by RS's statement that the "Nicene Creed claims that God has provided `one holy catholic and Apostolic Church.'" He used the weak word "claims" but within a paragraph, he moved to a strong and clear acceptance of that "claim"; in other words, he accepted as true that there is one holy catholic and Apostolic Church. Not only is that statement untrue within Christendom, but the God that the Christians share with the Jews and the Muslims (Jehovah) have given them disparate church/temple/mosque with contradictory interpretations. To the Jews and the Muslims, Jesus was clearly not God. RS saw the problems of the divided church and attempted to make some excuses for it, but he did not reconcile the division with the Jews and the Muslims. How does one talk about proof and truth unless the Jewish and Muslim positions are proven untrue. It is one thing to believe them untrue because one believes his Christian faith to be true, but it is utterly different when one seeks to prove one's version true in a book like this.

These are the closing remarks of the author and leave the reader to judge whether the conclusion sounds rational or theological:

"I conclude that the fact that the later Church taught the other items of the Nicene Creed in no way detracts from the very probable truth of the central claim of the Nicene Creed (made, as I have claimed, very probable on other grounds) that Jesus was God (that is, a divine person). From that it follows, since no divine person can cease to be divine, that Jesus is God."
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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
If you are looking for a book that rationally considers arguments for Jesus being God, then this book is not for you. Swinburne makes no attempt to consider any counter arguments. Not a single one of his arguments is convincing, he starts off with his beliefs fixed firmly in his head and just comes out with whatever nonsensical, pointless rubbish he can to back up his claims. He also subjects the reader to his own morals, his arrogance on that score is truly breath-taking. For example he berates married couples who don't have children, and argues that this shows their is a flaw in their marriage and that their love for each other is lacking. Apart from the fact that he gives this opinion as if it were fact, what exactly does it have to do with the topic of this book? Nothing. If you read this ridicluous book, be prepared for much in the way of this side-tracking and moralising. It's also not written in an engaging style, it's fairly heavy going rather academic stuff, even I, who have a degree in philosophy, found the writing style so boring that reading this was like wading through mud. I don't recommend this book at all.
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