My friend Jamie’s father works with the Curriculum Committee at a college in Pennsylvania. Visiting my friend last summer, I ran into a discussion with her father about his suggestion to the Curriculum Committee to use a certain course called RS176 “Jesus and His Interpreters” as a graduation requirement for the BA degree from the college where he works. I told him that this was a noble idea. At the same time, I proposed that he should consider beginning a new course called “The Personality of Jesus” to be used in place of RS176. This is because it is of greater importance for graduating students to learn about the personality of Jesus – a man of true substance – before these students may go on to begin their families and careers with knowledge about a perfectly ethical and honest character in the history of mankind.
I explained to Jamie’s father that the New Testament, in particular the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke portray Jesus as an extraordinary man with outstanding abilities, all of which were attributable to Jesus’ piety. The man was a religious master, with perfect authority over everything in the Heaven and the Earth. The non-Biblical portrait of Jesus is not very far from the truth presented in the Bible, regardless of whether we believe that the Bible is the absolute truth or not. The non-canonical Gospel of Thomas does also represent the man called Jesus possessing extraordinary strength. Lastly, there is a picture of Jesus represented by historians. Although the historians may debate about the real place of Jesus’ birth, and the nature of his miracles – nobody has ever claimed anything negative about the man. Hence, it is of little or no consequence what Jesus’ interpreters have gathered about the man. After all, some may even assume that Jesus never was. Nevertheless, the vast majority of people on Earth do believe in the man. These people understand that Jesus’ personality was, indeed, extraordinary, and anybody could use him as a model of perfect behavior.
In “The Personality of Jesus” students should be looking at Jesus as a man, seeing that he referred to himself as the Son of Man, and also stated that the Father is greater than he. So even though Jesus appeared to possess abilities that ordinary men did not have, he encouraged his disciples to follow him one hundred percent, also with respect to controlling the human body, which could walk on water in Jesus’ case and that of his disciples who would follow the great man without a doubt. In other words, Jesus believed that it was possible for loyal believers in him to become one with the great soul.
Studying “The Personality of Jesus” should appeal to all graduating students, even those who have by now disbelieved in Jesus. As a matter of fact, the nature of disbelief entails that one may disbelieve in anything whatsoever, even facts that have been related by historians. “Why should I believe in a historian?” – someone might say. And so, in the case of disbelief in Jesus, it is absolutely irrelevant to give due consideration to disbelief in everything, including disbelief in other important characters in the history of mankind. After all, a disbeliever in history might also argue: “I do not believe that Freud existed, and I do not believe that he wrote his books; neither do I believe in historians’ accounts of Freud’s life. For me, only seeing is believing.”
“The Personality of Jesus” should not be entirely based on his interpreters’ beliefs. Nevertheless, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke would be the most significant pieces of literature in studying the personality of the man. I do not recommend going into psychological theories of personality development in the case of Jesus. Rather, “The Personality of Jesus” would be a course outlining the basic character traits of the man, such as justice and straightforwardness. Jesus could talk straight with the Pharisees, for example, even though he disagreed with them. He was honest in his criticism just as he was more just than others with respect to religious punishments. I believe that most people should incorporate the character traits of Jesus, and “The Personality of Jesus” would be an excellent means of helping graduating students to incorporate perfect characteristics. Jesus had said that he and the Father are one. Moreover, he had advised his followers to become perfect just as the Father in Heaven is perfect. Even those who do not believe in Jesus and in God would find the course very helpful, seeing that all human beings do trust in and are aware of universal values such as justice, goodness, and honesty. Studying the personality of Jesus would only affirm their values, and a focus on the extraordinary man is bound to help all graduating students in becoming the best of citizens. It is a good idea, after all, for both believers as well as disbelievers to consider incorporating the trait of absolute honesty. All people believe in this trait, and Jesus showed the world how it was possible to be absolutely honest.
Once again, it is irrelevant whether graduating students believe or disbelieve in the portraits of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. While a disbeliever may assume that these Gospels are fiction – the fact remains that everybody still believes in the truth of universal values, and Jesus’ story is one of the best in the world expressing the use of perfect character traits that all graduating students should be helped to incorporate for better lives in future.