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Cullen Murphy on Who Jesus Was

"Who Do Men Say That I Am?" in The Atlantic (December 1986).

It may be that Jesus went to his death not knowing quite who he was, regardless of what other men thought. He certainly went to his death with public opinion sharply divided and with his own disciples profoundly confused. There is obviously no consensus even today — even among Christians — as to what the real message of Jesus was and how it should apply to our lives, if it should apply at all. Despite the credal affirmations of the mainstream Christian churches, there is also no consensus — not if one looks at what real people actually believe — as to the identity of Jesus. Was he, as traditional Christian dogmatics hold, both God and Man — "the Word made flesh," a human being who was "consubstantial with the Father"? Did he partake of the divine in some more diluted and, as many twentieth-century churchgoers have doubtless concluded, inherently more plausible manner? Was he simply another of those charismatics who appear from time to time, destroy some complacency, do some good, and bequeath to the human race the symbol of an exemplary life?