I think the best argument against the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Christ, would be an appeal to the deification of Ronald Reagan.
In the State funeral that was Reagan’s, we as a nation came almost, but not quite, to the point of a contemporary process of declaring a deceased ruler a god ala the Roman Senate. The practice had become so common by the end of the the Julio-Claudian Dynasty that when the Emperor Vaspasian (of the succeeding Flavian Dynasty) was dying, he is reported to have remarked, “I fear I am becoming a god.”
Listening to people talk about Reagan thirty years after the fact, and reading what people have written after the fact, bears little resemblance to the man I remember and whom I studied. Reagan is important to me because it was he and other politicians at the time who inspired me to study politics. As someone who has studied and taught history, as well as political science in academic settings, I know exactly who Reagan was as a man — but the man that was Reagan died long before his body gave up the ghost, and the legend and emerging deified man emerged a decade after his silence from world events.
So, as an historian looking back at the first century, I can see the same process that has happened with Reagan playing out with Jesus. The difference is that Reagan was a man of privilege and power who became the leader of the free world, and Jesus was a poor peasant who was killed by the Ronald Reagan of (or at least the civil servant of the Ronald Reagan) of his time. Yet, people began telling stories about Jesus and what we have in the Gospels was written about thirty years after the death of Jesus.
So, the point is, if you really want a valid argument against the divinity of Jesus, you can simply use the Reagan analogy. Since the Gospels were written thirty or forty years after the fact, and since the earliest writings about Jesus were written by Paul, who never met Jesus (or saw him alive as far as we know), all we have to do is ask ourselves, is it possible that the same process that has been done with Reagan could have been done to Jesus.
In fact, it is easier to explain the process playing out with Jesus than with Reagan because at least with the latter we have video footage, letters, signed documents, and so on that we can use to see who Reagan really was and what Reagan really did. We have none of that with Jesus.
We also have to remember that the issue of Jesus’ divinity was a matter of debate for nearly three hundred years. It was in 325 in Nicea that Jesus was officially made God. Before that time some Christian sects asserted his divinity, others did not. Some saw him solely as a prophet, and even many of those who saw Jesus as “Son of God” understood that phrase in human terms — as they did when King David is called a Son of God, or when the people of Israel are called Sons of God.
It could quite simply be that the New Testament is the Fox News of the First Century. Those who use it as the sole source of historical knowledge may have a skewed version of history. Many people think that Pharisees were bad people and never once are told that outside of the New Testament, Pharisees are very popular with most people most of the time. They are also never once told that Jesus operates like he is a Pharisee more than he does not.
Am I saying that Jesus is not God? No, I am not saying that. Am I saying that Jesus is not the Second member in the Trinity? No, I am not saying that. But I am not saying that he is any of these things either. That is not the point of this. This is not an apologetic for or against the divinity of Jesus. It is an exercise in historical processes. I know what I believe on the subject, and anyone who knows me knows what I believe on the subject, so I do not feel the need to state my view.
Besides, what Christians — all Christians — have routinely and consistently claimed is that Jesus of Nazareth, who is called The Christ, is the clearest representation of who God is. I, personally, do not see why Jesus has to be God to be a clear picture of who God is. All Jesus has to do is to be authentically human because human beings are made in the image of God; therefore, human beings are pictures of who God is. The problem is that “sin” — however we want to define that — blocks the clear image of God within us, so that the more we sin, the less we are a clear representation of God. Jesus is without sin, meaning that he is still the perfect image of who God is. Therefore, whether Jesus is God or not, we can see God in him and it is the best picture we have yet to have of who God is.
So, the place where my internal scholarly historian and my internal person of faith meet is this: The Church, the world, and ourselves, would be much better served if we stopped talking about who Jesus is, and focus more on what Jesus said. If what Jesus said is true, then it is true whether he is God or man. And if what he says is ONLY true if Jesus is God, but is somehow not true if Jesus were only a man, then I do not see how it can be said to be true — it is just “I want it to be true but I have no way of really backing up that it is true.” But if it is true, then it is true regardless of who Jesus was and is.
So, regardless of what we may think or believe about Jesus, we must at least encounter his words and his deeds and ask ourselves: “Is this true?” We need to stop asking ourselves: “Can I trick myself into believing this is true because I believe Jesus is God and God scares me so I at least will give lip-service to it being true.” If is no less true if only a man says it, then it is true, and we need to pay attention to it. If it is only true if God says it, then it is only true for you, and if you will not live it, why should anyone else — especially those for whom it is not true?
Personally, I believe that if we all stopped debating about who Jesus was and practiced what Jesus said — beginning with the teaching to do for others what you want done for you — then the Kingdom of God would spring all over this planet and nothing could stop it. The only thing that can stop it is our refusal to believe in WHAT Jesus said as we try to convince each other WHO Jesus was.
(p.s. Reagan was no Jesus!)