Tag Archives: the legacy of Jesus

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? The Value of Human Life II (What If– 16)

I apologize for a long gap between postings in this series on What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? It has been a very challenging couple of months and I am writing these from scratch as we go along. Hopefully from now one I will be able to post a new segment each week until the series is complete.

What impact did Jesus’ teaching and example have on the church? A whole lot, right from the beginning. When reading the New Testament, it is surprising how many women were in leadership from the first. Paul mentions a co-worker named Apphia in the second verse of Philemon. Nympha was the head of one of the churches in Colossia (Col 4:15). Priscilla is not only part of an evangelistic/teaching team (Priscilla and Aquila), she is usually mentioned first before her husband, which in Greek would suggest she was the leader or primary teacher. Phoebe, a deacon (the normal term for that church office, she is not called a “deaconess”), is the one delegated by Paul to deliver and explain his epic letter to the Romans (Rom 16:1). The same letter makes mention of Junia, a female name, who was “renowned among the apostles” (Rom 16:7), so a major figure in the church, whether or not Paul is saying she is an apostle herself (somewhat ambiguous in the Greek—episȇmoi en tois apostolois). Lydia became the leader of the house church in Philippi (Acts 16:40). Euodia and Syntyche are described as “fellow strugglers” (Greek: sunȇblȇsan) with Paul in the preaching of the gospel. One does not have to read far into the attitudes and practices of the Greco-Roman world to realize that this is a dramatic shift at the time.

But the impact of Jesus’ teachings and practice was not limited to the treatment of women. Early Christians would collect and adopt exposed infants, raising them in their own homes. During the time of persecution from the Empire (100 to early 300s AD) this was the only way they could show the value that God places on each person, including unwanted babies. But when Christianity became the religion of the Empire, many of the teachings of Jesus became institutionalized by the Christian emperors.

Emperor Constantine the Great (co-ruler from 306-324 AD, sole ruler from 324-337) began to favor Christianity in 312-313. When He was in a position to do so, he followed the implications of Jesus’ teaching by outlawing the branding of slaves and crucifixion. He also encouraged the establishment of orphanages to help care for abandoned children. Constantine’s son Constantius (337-361 AD) ordered the segregation male and female prisoners, ending a practice subject to great abuse of women. Valentinian (364-375), at last, abolished infanticide as an acceptable practice in the Empire. That decree would later on be re-affirmed by Justinian the Great (527-565). While abortion was never practiced by the early church and was condemned by the church fathers Athenagoras (circa 133-190) and Tertullian (circa 155-220), it was not abolished by the Christian emperors until the time of Justinian.

In spite of the influence of Jesus in many aspects of the Empire, another practice that the Christian emperors did not give up for a long time was the cruel sports in the arena, where people fought to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. Then on January 1, 404 AD, the gladiatorial games came screeching to a halt. A Christian monk named Telemachus was visiting Rome and got swept into the Colosseum by the crowd for a gladiatorial spectacle in the presence of the Emperor Honorius (395-423). When he realized the gladiators were fighting to the death, the small man ran out into the arena and attempted to separate the gladiators and convince them to stop fighting. The crowd began to hiss at this interference, so one of the gladiators ran him through with a sword. The audience gazed at the scene in horror and began to leave the arena. This turn in popular sentiment enabled Honorius to abolish the games from that day forward. But it was a single man, inspired by Jesus, who played the key role in ending these cruel spectacles. Would that have happened if Jesus had not been born?

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? The Value of Human Life (What If– 15)

In the Greco-Roman World life was cheap, expendable. This was especially true if you were a woman, a child, a foreigner, or simply poor. People often sacrificed their own children in order to placate the gods. If a baby was not wanted (this was especially true if the baby was a girl), it was often killed or simply laid on the street to be picked up by a stranger or simply die of exposure. Abortion was widespread, even though major figures like Hippocrates and Galen opposed it. One of the meanings of pharmakeia (the Greek word at the root of the English “pharmacy”) is sorcery or abortion. What the two actions have in common is the use of drugs or potions to create an effect (sorcery) or to induce an abortion.

Another evidence that life was cheap in the Greco-Roman world is that 70% of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Slaves had no rights or social standing. They could be killed with impunity on the whim of their masters. Female slaves could be offered as sexual favors to guests. The institution of slavery treated human beings as less than human. So did the cruel sports that the Romans enjoyed, which included killing other humans for sport and entertainment (gladiators).

The Greco-Roman world also had little respect for women. Women had few rights and no social value. Even when they were free citizens, they were only slightly above slaves on the social pecking order. They were generally not permitted to speak in public. They could be used as sex slaves unless they were protected by a father, a husband, or another male relative. The widespread practice of polygamy demonstrated that women had less value than men in relationships. In fact, it was Christianity’s regard for women that was often used against it. Treating women with respect and dignity was considered a sign of weakness in the Greco-Roman world.

The Greco-Roman world also had a low view of the poor. The Stoics taught that it was undignified to associate with the poor, the weak, and the outcast. As a result there is no record of charitable effort as such in the ancient world. When the Roman upper classes were distributing food or other support to the poor, it was not an act of caring concern for the poor, it was patronage for the purpose of accumulating honor and prestige for the giver. The Romans drew a distinction between caritas and liberalitas. Caritas (charity) was a Latin word that meant to give freely to those who can=t give back. Liberalitas, on the other hand, meant to give something in order to get something in return, whether that was favors or simply honor and attention. The more people that came to you for help, the greater in social standing you appeared to be. The world into which Jesus was born did not consider most human lives to be of great value.

Then Jesus came. He reinforced the teaching of His Jewish heritage. Human beings were made by God in His image (Gen 1:27) and were, therefore, crowned with glory and honor (Psa 8:5). But that was only the starting point for Jesus’ message about human dignity. Human beings were souls for whom He died (1 Cor 8:11). Jesus valued children and urged them to come to Him (Matt 19:14) when others would have driven them away. Instead of running away from lepers, Jesus treated them with kindness and compassion. Although he knew that Judas was about to betray him, He did not “throw him under the bus” in front of the other disciples (John 13:27-29). Though He was fully aware of Simon the Pharisee’s past history, he did not expose the details of that history to the other dinner guests (Luke 7:39-47). Thought the Pharisees were cruel and hypocritical in bringing the woman taken in adultery to Jesus, He uplifted her, but not at the expense of the Pharisee’s reputation in the community. He let them preserve their dignity (John 8:5-9). Jesus treated even the bitterest of opponents with respect and kindness.

Jesus behavior toward women, in a Greco-Roman society that did not respect them, also drew a sharp contrast with the norm. He treated Mary like a disciple at a time when women were not seen as deserving of an education (Luke 10:38-42). He did the same with her sister Martha at a later time (John 11: 20-27. He even allowed women to travel with His entourage, something rabbis would have frowned upon (Luke 8:1-3). He delegated his message to Samaria to a woman of low reputation in that town (John 4:27-30, 39-42). He took time to offer words of approval and comfort to the woman who found healing by touching His garment (Mark 5:25-34). This treatment of women would have stood out in first-century society.

Jesus not only treated the poor and the outcasts with great kindness and dignity, He taught those around him to do the same. One memorable teaching was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). He put the elites of Jewish society and their attitudes toward those less fortunate in sharp contrast with that of Samaritans, who were a despised class in Jewish society. A representative of those elites was forced to acknowledge that selfless help to the unfortunate was the right thing to do. He encouraged His disciples to treat the unfortunate the same way that they would treat Him, their teacher. After all, He Himself had left the riches of heaven and become poor in human terms in order to lift up the poor and neglected (2 Cor 8:9). Even the circumstances of His torture and death made a statement about true power and dignity. He was dressed in royal robes and wore a crown of thorns. In His kingdom, suffering with Him put one at higher status than earthly power equations. The teaching and behavior of Jesus would change everything.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus and Health Care II (What If– 14)

As was the case with science and research, the basic insights and structures that make modern medicine possible were birthed in a context of Jesus’ followers and influence. Since the story is not widely known, let me review a few key examples. The world’s first vaccine (for smallpox) was invented by Edward Jenner (1749-1823). Through this single medical advance Jenner may have directly saved more lives than any other person in history. In his own words, he confessed the motivation for his work was his relationship with Jesus: “I am a follower of Christ. I am a tool in the hands of God.” Another well-known health care pioneer was Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), an English social reformer who was also the founder of the nursing profession. She wrote, among other things, “Christ . . . came into the world to save sinners . . . to deliver men from sin and its consequences.” Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), a French chemist and microbiologist, led the way in understanding the causes and prevention of disease, laying the foundation for public health and much of modern medicine. Joseph Lister (1827-1912), a British surgeon, pioneered antiseptic surgery. Both Pasteur and Lister were fervent Christians. And the name of the “Red Cross” speaks eloquently to the motivations of its founders. As in other areas of science, the key developments in medicine were motivated by Jesus.

The same can be said for the concept of the modern teaching hospital. In the United States, the best research hospitals were founded mostly by Christian denominations or by groups of believing Christians. The original research hospital, Massachusetts General (a clinical arm of Harvard Medical School today), was founded by a pastor named John Bartlett. Bartlett had a passion for the poor and the neglected of society, motivated by Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus said: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” At that time (early 1800s) most medical care was done in people’s homes, with doctors making “house calls”. This meant that quality health care could only be afforded by the wealthy, who could pay not only for the visit but for all the doctor’s travel time as well. No location in the Boston area provided round the clock care to the general public. Bartlett reasoned that if you could gather a group of doctors in one place, the poor and the underserved could travel to that place and receive affordable care. And so Massachusetts General Hospital opened up in 1821.

In Baltimore Maryland, a number of years later, a Christian named Johns Hopkins founded a teaching hospital that combined clinical care with education and research, possibly the first true teaching hospital. The motto of Johns Hopkins Medical Center (now called simply Johns Hopkins Medicine) is: “The truth will set you free.” As noted earlier in this series, that was one of the most famous sayings of Jesus. Like Pastor Bartlett, the original Johns Hopkins was motivated by Jesus to advance the science of medicine. In fact, the top ten research hospitals in the world by most accounts were all originally staffed by Christian-educated medical doctors. Most of these ten are readily recognizable names: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic. Johns Hopkins Medicine, Massachusetts General, University of Michigan Medical Center, University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, UCLA Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai, Stanford University Medical Center, and New York Presbyterian Medical Center. Nine of the ten were founded by committed Christians. The tenth, Cedars-Sinai, was founded by Jews, but even that hospital was largely staffed by committed Christian doctors. There are many hospitals in the world that were founded by people of other religions or no religion. What is significant is that these ten are the “seed” research hospitals that created the medical breakthroughs that all hospitals seek to emulate today.

While the United States and these ten hospitals have led the way in medical research, mission hospitals around the world have been founded by committed Christians of many denominations to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in nearly every place. Not least among these is the extensive cohort of Seventh-day Adventist mission hospitals that were inspired by Jesus through the writings of Ellen G. White. Many of these are among the most respected medical establishments in their respective countries. The crown jewel of Ellen White’s vision for “continuing the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus” is Loma Linda University Health in southern California. With assistance from LLUH, not only are SDA mission hospitals being strengthened in their mission, but some ten medical and dental schools have risen up in far-flung places like Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, India, Peru, Chile, Nigeria, Rwanda, and more. And so Jesus’ influence on the medical profession and its clinical counterpart continues.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus and Health Care (What If– 13)

A big surprise when I was doing my research on the historical impact of Jesus was how crucial His ideas were to the advances of modern medicine. As usual, let’s begin with the context, health care in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ day. There were a number of positives in that context. Hippocrates (460-c. 370 BC), contemporary of Socrates and Plato, is often called the “Father of Medicine”. He established medicine and healing as a distinct discipline of study. He believed diseases had natural causes, they were not punishment from the gods. But his work only went so far, because he was largely ignorant of anatomy and physiology. Like the Greek philosophers of his time, he seems to have felt that hands-on research was beneath his dignity.

A century or so after Jesus, Galen (129-c. 216 AD—Greek: Klaudios Galȇnos) crossed the boundaries of hands-on research to dissect monkeys and pigs, since dissection of humans was strictly forbidden at that time. In this way he developed a rudimentary understanding of anatomy and physiology. He also broke with the traditions of his day in seeing mind and body as a unity, the one affecting the other. So he pioneered theories of psychosomatic healing. He also performed some rudimentary surgeries. He is, perhaps, most famous for founding the great medical school in Pergamum, the ruins of which can be visited today. Because of his philosophical convictions, a number of psychosomatic treatments were performed there, so he could be called the father of whole person care.

But there is in fact no direct line from Galen to modern medicine. He was so famous later on that his erroneous theories were as influential as his promising ones, holding back the advance of medicine in the Middle Ages. And there were other problems. The last time I visited the ruins of Galen’s medical school and clinic, I noticed an 820 meter roadway leading to the entrance. Triage involved the patient having to walk that whole distance. If they made it, they were admitted for treatment, if they didn’t make it they were sent away. Health care in the Greco-Roman world was for “useful” people, not for general public. Among those useful people were soldiers, elites and gladiators. Helping the sick was considered a sign of weakness, so the sick were often ostracized, unless they were wealthy and powerful. “imperfect” children were often drowned, as they would never be “useful”.

A stronger foundation for modern medicine could be found in ancient Judaism. The sanitary practices in the Pentateuch, for example, foreshadow many public health practices today. Belief in one God steered the Jews away from magic as a response to sickness. Belief in the wholeness of human beings and in the goodness of the body would have made a huge difference in the Greco-Roman world had it taken Judaism more seriously. But then Jesus came and transformed these biblical ideas in a way that changed everything.

The first thing one notices about Jesus is that He seems to have spent much more time healing than teaching or preaching. And He not only commissioned His disciples to preach, but also “to heal” (Luke 9:2, ESV). Whenever His disciples entered a town, the first thing they were to do after having something to eat was to “heal the sick” that were in that town (Luke 10:8-9, ESV). Not only that, Jesus’ healings were in the context of great compassion for those He was healing (Matt 14:14; 20:34; Mark 1:31; 5:19; 6:34, etc.; Luke 7:13). And who can forget the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46), where Jesus tells His disciples that he identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the sick. Along with Paul, Jesus acknowledged that the human body was a temple of God and should be treated with similar respect (John 2:19-21; 1 Cor 6:19-20). These teachings and practices of Jesus were in direct contrast with those of the Greco-Roman world.


It is clear that the early church understood Jesus’ commission to heal the sick to apply to them as well as His disciples. In the early centuries, before the church became the religion of the Empire, Christians did not prioritize the elites for healing but helped those who needed it the most, such as orphans, widows, the poor, the deformed, and the disabled. Once Christianity had become the religion of the Empire, one of the first actions (at the Council of Nicea) was a decree that hospitals should be erected wherever there were churches. Basil in the East and Fabiola in Rome founded the world’s first true hospitals. In contrast to Galen, these Christian hospitals focused on the poor. The wealthy were treated at home or at elite centers of healing. The cross-fertilization between the cathedral hospitals and cathedral schools created the seedbed of modern medicine, which we will explore in the next blog.

Let me close by acknowledging the dark side of the church on this issue. The early Christians went along with Greco-Roman society in forbidding the dissection of human bodies, so scientific medicine didn=t advance dramatically until after Reformation. Then things began to take off.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus, Science and Research II (What If– 12)

As noted in the previous blog, the Greeks made an advance toward modern scientific research in seeing the world as something that ought to be understood. This was a big step in the direction of scientific research, rejecting the ideas that the world was the abode of gods that should be left alone, or that it was an illusion. But the Greek advance in scientific thinking never produced a scientific revolution because they despised matter and manual labor. These are two things you have to be engaged in and with, in order to advance scientific knowledge. In seeing matter and manual labor as goods Jesus set the table for a major change in people’s thinking.

The first impact of Jesus’ attitude toward the world was on the church. If God made the world and declared it good, science (based on scientia, the Latin word for knowledge) is simply “thinking God’s thoughts after Him,” in the words of Johannes Kepler. And if human beings are designed in the image of God, then they are to be as thoughtful and creative as God is. So the seeds of the “Scientific Revolution” were planted in early universities, which were all grounded in Christian principles and idea. As noted, these included freedom of thought and inquiry (not just rote learning), but also the dignity of labor and positive view of natural world. These “Jesus ideas” laid the foundation for what would later become known as scientific method.

To some degree the dominance of the medieval church and general ignorance of the Bible held the potential for scientific advances back until the Reformation rediscovered and again promulgated the teachings of Jesus. With the Reformation came an explosion of science. A number of factors were in play. It was a time of spiritual revival and intense Christian belief. Protestant society was open to reading, learning and independent thought. But the Reformation added one further ingredient, the idea that human beings are essentially sinful. If human hearts are sinful and perverse (Jer 17:9), then ideas cannot merely be asserted, they need to be demonstrated. Science, then, needs to be based on replicable experiments, where ideas are held accountable to data. Because even the results of experimentation can be manipulated, the only safety was to subject the results of science to Scripture. And so the Reformation came up with the idea of the two books of revelation, the Bible and the evidence of the natural world. The words of God and the works of God should be in harmony.

If one has any doubts about the impact of the Reformation on the development of the scientific revolution, one need only look more closely at the kind of people who laid the groundwork for modern science. Virtually all scientists until 1750 were fervent, believing Christians, including the key founders of scientific research. The names are legendary, their Christian commitments, not as well known. We can start with Isaac Newton (who studied at Cambridge University). He is widely considered the father of calculus, the laws of motion, and the binomial theorem, all foundational to scientific research. Less well known is that he took time to write commentaries on the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. He studied Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. There is no better window on his Christian commitment than his own diary, where he puts in writing his innermost thoughts. There you will find lines like the following: “We are in . . . his son Jesus Christ, this is the true God.” “Christ died for our sins.” “Christ hath loved us and hath given himself for us.” Newton was clearly no secular humanist. He was driven and motivated by his relationship with Jesus.

Johannes Kepler is thought of as the father of modern astronomy, celestial mechanics, and even the pinhole camera. Interestingly, he began his studies to become a pastor, but he was too good in math and his teachers quickly urged him to consider moving in that direction. It is a good thing for human history that he did. But he never abandoned his commitment to the gospel and kept it in mind as he pondered the universe. In his diary you will find statements like, “Before the universe was created, there were no numbers except the Trinity. . .” Like Kepler, Blaise Pascal was a committed Christian. He was also the father of geometry, physics, the scientific method, and the mechanical computer. His commitment was put on record in his diary: “Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you . . . . Jesus Christ . . . may I never be separated from him.”

The Royal Society of Great Britain was the first great scientific association. Yet its founder were not only Christian, 62% of them were Puritans, the strictest branch of English Christianity. And the founder of most branches of science were not only Christians, they were creationists. To believe that God created the universe does not mean you will do bad science, some of the greatest of scientists had no problem integrating their Christian beliefs with their scientific endeavors. The list of names is extensive, I will share only a few. The following scientific disciplines were founded by committed Christians: Antiseptic surgery (Joseph Lister), bacteriology (Louis Pasteur), calculus (Newton and Leibniz), celestial mechanics (Johannes Kepler), chemistry (Robert Boyle), comparative anatomy (George Cuvier), electromagnetics (Michael Faraday), galactic astronomy (William Herschel), genetics (Gregor Mendel), glacial geology (Louis Agassiz), isotopic chemistry (William Ramsey). No less an authority than Rodney Stark affirms that 51 of the 52 most influential scientists of the Scientific Revolution were committed Christians. At least half of them would be what we might call “born-again” believers, active and devoted followers of Jesus.

With all these historical facts in mind, it is fair to wonder if science as we know it would exist had Jesus never been born. Had Jesus never existed would there be an internet, cell phones, cars, airplanes, central heat and AC, electric lights? I suspect the world would be a very different place if Jesus had never been born. Much of what brings us comfort and joy in today’s world we ultimately owe to Jesus.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus, Science and Research (What If– 11)

When it comes to the origins of modern-day science and research, there is a popular narrative that goes something like this: The ancient Greeks were fledgling scientists that, left alone, would have brought the world to where we are today even sooner. But then, unfortunately, Christianity took over the Mediterranean world, put a stop to scientific thinking, and the result was the Dark Ages. It was the Muslims in the Middle East that invented science and they passed it on to the Europeans, resulting in the Renaissance. To this day, Christianity is doing all it can to stifle science. Conclusion: Christianity and science are fundamentally incompatible. Get rid of Christianity and science would flourish as never before and everyone would benefit.

But this popular narrative ignores a number of historical facts. So once again, let’s take a closer look. It is likely true to say that scientific thinking, at least in the Western world, began with the Greeks. But the Greek philosophers never produced a “scientific age”. The main reason for this is not the interference of Christianity, but the methodology of the Greek philosophers themselves. You see, the Greek philosophers were deductive thinkers rather than experimental researchers. They despised the material world and they despised manual labor. As a result, while they came up with many brilliant theories of how things work, they didn’t test their theories (what we call research), as that would require literally getting their hands dirty. They thought long and hard about how many teeth might reside in a horse’s mouth, but never actually opened a horse’s mouth to find out (gross!). There were exceptions to this general trend, like Archimedes and Galen, but as a rule they did not encourage the kind of hands-on research so characteristic of today’s world. As we noted in the previous blogs on education, they also emphasized memorization and conformity over critical thinking. The proof of that? They never produced universities and they did not produce a scientific revolution.

Elsewhere in world, it was no different. The Arabs were inherently fatalistic, so they didn’t try to transform the world, they believed only God could do that. Animists, on the other hand, equated the natural world with the gods and you don=t experiment with “the gods”. In India, the prevailing philosophy was that the physical world is unreal, an illusion. And if that is the case, scientific experimentation doesn’t make a lot of sense. Things were more promising in China. Chinese people invented the abacus, the crossbow, gunpowder, paper, and printing. But without anything like the Reformation, Chinese science didn’t go very far. There was no “Scientific Revolution” in China until recent times.

Then Jesus came. Like a mustard seed, His view of the world gradually brought about changes in the way people thought, and these changes made all the difference over time. Jesus rejected the idea that the material world was evil and, therefore, unworthy of investigation. For Him the world was a gift from a loving God to the human race. Rather than being despised, the world was to be mourned as a victim of sin, but delighted in as a gift of love and a glimpse of the glory of God. It was not to be worshiped, as the animists did, but it was to be cherished, cultivated, investigated and enjoyed. In this Jesus was building on His Jewish heritage, which affirmed that God created the world and that the world He made was “very good” (Gen 1:31). Human beings were created to care for the earth, to understand and shape it (Gen 1:28). The material world was a positive thing that human beings could preserve and transform with their labor (Gen 2:15). Jesus affirmed the Jewish belief in the dignity of labor by His own practice as a carpenter or stone worker. A great philosopher, Jesus did what the Greek philosophers would never do, get His hands dirty improving the world around Him.

While Jesus and the Jews of His day shared this view of the earth and the dignity of labor, Judaism had only a marginal influence on the Greco-Roman world. It was the influence of Jesus and the Jesus movement that eventually prevailed in the Greco-Roman world. Jesus set the foundation for scientific research and also the basis for critical thinking (Isa 1:18; John 8:32, 36). The search for truth was affirmed as a central task for those who would follow Jesus. In the words of Alfred North Whitehead: “Science is grounded in the Christian conviction about the rationality of God.” On what basis would Whitehead make such an assertion? We will look at the evidence for that in the next blog.

Summing up. The Greeks made an advance toward modern scientific research in seeing the world as something that ought to be understood. The Hebrews provided support for that idea in seeing the world, not as an object of worship, but as a cause for worship, it is a record of God’s mighty acts. Collectively, this was a big step in the direction of scientific research, rejecting the ideas that the world was the abode of gods that should be left alone, or that it was an illusion. But the Greek advance in scientific thinking never combined with the Jewish idea of the world as a gift of God worthy of investigation. At least not before Jesus came. Only then did the idea that the world should be both understood and shaped begin to transfer people’s thinking.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus and Education II (What If– 10)

In the first part of our analysis of Jesus and Education we noticed the transforming power of Jesus’ teachings on education within the church. But in this second part we will discover that Jesus not only transformed education within the church, but ultimately the entire world. While institutions of higher learning existed in ancient Europe, Persia, China and India, and later in the Islamic world, universities as we know them today were an outgrowth of the cathedral schools in the High Middle Ages. From 1180 to 1210, the Universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Cambridge were chartered along the lines of the universities that have been so central to our lives today. So the concept of today’s university (the free and critical study of everything that is knowable) is a Christian innovation. The earliest universities were founded on the principles of fostering the image of God, freedom of independent thought, and encouraging intellectual exploration and critical thinking. While these universities began with programs in Christian theology, canon law and the Greek classics, they laid the foundation of both the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

Some might question the influence of Jesus on the founding of these universities. So it may be helpful to review some historical artifacts that demonstrate the connection. The motto of Oxford University is: “The Lord is my Light.” This is associated on the Oxford crest with three crowns, representing the Trinity. Cambridge University was founded shortly after Oxford. Its motto is: “Here is Light and Sacred Draughts”. Cambridge produced such famous world-changing Christians as Isaac Newton, Sr Francis Bacon, John Milton, and John Harvard (more on him later). The development of universities was greatly supported by the invention of printing in 1456 by Johann Gutenberg. Up until then, most people saw a Bible only in church, if the church has a hand-written copy (many or most did not). Gutenberg was deeply motivated by the idea of putting the Bible in everyone’s hands, so the gospel of Jesus could penetrate deep into the heart of Europe. While it was Jesus that motivated universities and printing, the impact of these developments went far beyond religion.

The combination of freedom of thought, critical thinking and the availability of the Bible and other books made the Reformation possible. And what the Reformation did was to put the Bible at the very center of society. John Calvin believed that if everyone read the Bible, the Reformation would last. He also believed that if education were not grounded in the Bible, it would ultimately do more harm than good. Something to think about today. It was also in Protestant Europe after the Reformation that many educational innovations were developed. Martin Luther promoted education and literacy for all, without exceptions. Johann Sturm, a Lutheran layman, developed the idea of graded education. Friedrich Froebel, a Lutheran pastor, founded the idea of Kindergarten. Gallaudet expanded education to the deaf, and Braille to the blind. All of these individuals were committed Christians and were motivated by the teachings of Jesus and the gospel.

The earliest American universities also had Christian origins without exception. John Harvard, a graduate of Cambridge mentioned earlier and a pastor, founded Harvard University (1636), along with other Cambridge grads. It is no accident that the town where Harvard is located is called Cambridge, in honor of the Christian university that inspired the founding of Harvard. The spirit and motivation of the founders of Harvard is witnessed in the founding stone at the heart of Harvard Yard. There one can still read today: “After God had carried us safely to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God=s worship, and settled the civil government; one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.” The motivation for Harvard’s founding was an educated Protestant ministry. In case that seems impossible today, not the Harvard motto which is found on the Harvard crest: ATruth for Christ and the Church.@ And at the center of Harvard Yard is the Memorial Church. Yale was founded by pastors. Princeton was founded Ato promote the Kingdom of the Great Redeemer.@ Today, the top ten universities in the world were all found by Christians. While one might dispute one or the other of these, the ten names need no introduction to most people: Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, Columbia, Berkeley, Chicago, Princeton, Yale. As we will see, a disproportionate percentage of the world’s scientific and medical advances arise out of these ten, all a part of the legacy of Jesus.

Universal public education in America was founded by the Puritans in early 1600s. Every town to provide free education for all children, so everyone can read the Bible. In fact, American public education was almost totally Christian until 1837. Secular public education, promoted by Horace Mann and later John Dewey, was a reaction to the Christian dominance of education up to that time. While public education has strongly supported the ideal of education and literacy for all, the increasing demand for charter schools in the United States indicates that Christian education is still considered the best by many. Interestingly, literacy in the United States was nearly 100% in the year 1900, before the full secularization of education was accomplished. Today it is more like 89-90%. Could the secularization of universal education be part of the problem? Without the motivation of reading God’s Word, literacy may not seem as critical asa it once did.

In light of that, Adventist education was founded to continue the American Protestant heritage of education for all grounded in the Bible. This has had profound impact around the world. Fernando and Ana Stahl, for example, revolutionized Peruvian society by providing the indigenous population with an Adventist education in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. In many countries today, SDA colleges and universities are considered the best in the country. One could perhaps say that Andrews and Loma Linda Universities are the Oxford and Cambridge of a new Christian university movement. It remains to be seen what the outcome of that movement will be around the world outside of Europe and North America.

Some scholars believe that if Jesus had never been born, literacy around the world might be 10-15%, much as it was in the ancient Greco-Roman world. It is possible that there would be no universities like the ones we have today, the seedbed of most of the scientific and technological advances in today’s world. If there were no universities as we know them today, there might be no scientific revolution and no revolution in health care such as we enjoy today. I would argue, on purely historical grounds, that Jesus is likely the most influential person who ever lived.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus and Education (What If– 9)

Our first historical account of the impact of Jesus on human history will explore the topic of education. In the Greco-Roman world (a term for the world of the Roman Empire in which Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again), education developed a number of elements that have influenced us today. But it was a fairly limited operation. For one thing, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not bother to educate girls. Their place was in the home where there would be no need for them to know philosophy, history, science or geopolitics (or so it was thought). Even with boys, it was only the sons of the elite that got an education. It is estimated that, at the most, only 10-15% of the population of the Empire could read. And the education offered by the Greeks and the Romans did not invite critical thinking, but focused more on memorization and conformity with previous opinions. Conformity and memorization are important values up to a point, but they would never have led to the advances in science, technology and health care that we enjoy today.

Then Jesus came. As a First-Century Jew He affirmed some fundamental teachings of the Old Testament that ran counter to the Greco-Roman standards and added some important wrinkles of His own. According to Genesis 1:27 all human beings, male and female, were created in the image of God. That implies high value and dignity for all human beings, who were designed in special ways to be like God and to continually grow into great knowledge of God and God’s creation. Jesus’ behavior toward the poor, the marginalized, and women was a living demonstration of His belief in that teaching. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 is also a foundation piece of Jewish education: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” According to this passage, education is important and requires literacy. One must read the Bible in order to understand it. And it is important for all children all the time. But by Jesus’ day Jews, like their Gentile counterparts, were educating only male elites, which blunted the force of Moses’ teachings on education. They lost focus on the Mosaic mandate, Jesus came to restore and enhance it.

Jesus did not just come for Jews, for men, for elites, He came as the “Light of the world” (John 8:12) which “enlightens everyone” (John 1:9). The ideal education is one that has Jesus at the heart of it. He was both the greatest teacher and the greatest subject ever. And in case the “light of the world” concept was too subtle for His disciples, Jesus was explicit in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go and teach the whole world.” Education was for all nations. And it was for all people, including women. There is evidence in the gospels that Jesus had female disciples (Luke 8:1-3; 10:39-42; John 11:28). Jesus also taught that true education sets people free to reason and think critically (John 8:32). The Bible can be misunderstood (John 5:39-40), so it must be carefully studied. In contrast with the Greco-Roman world, Jesus encouraged people to think for themselves rather than simply conform their ideas to what has been taught before.

The impact of Jesus’ teaching and practice on the early church was dramatic. Acts 5:42 reports: “They did not cease teaching.” So Christian schools educated everybody from the first, including females and slaves. Literacy was a high value, so people could study the Scriptures for themselves. This phenomenon was revolutionary in the Greco-Roman world. After the first couple centuries, education was strongly located in monastic schools. But as Christianity went mainstream with Constantine, it was mandated that every major church or cathedral was expected to house a school. Wherever early Christian missionaries went, they introduced education for all classes of people in their own languages. So it is not surprising that Ulfilas (4th Century), the Christian missionary, created an alphabet for the Goth languages, so the Gothic peoples could become literate in the Bible. Cyril and Methodius (9th Century) did the same for the Slavic languages. In subtle ways, the teachings of Jesus transformed the world in very practical ways. Even today, the Wycliffe Bible translators are at the forefront of providing literacy to tribes that do not have written languages.

But as impactful as they were, the cathedral schools were still the equivalent of today’s K-12 education. As time went on, the need was felt to advance beyond the cathedral schools to create institutions of higher learning. By the year 1000, early developments in higher education were beginning to happen, particularly in the Benedictine monasteries. In the next blog, we will explore how Christian higher education ended up transforming the entire world.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? The “Mustard-Seed Principle” (What If– 8)

When talking about the impact of Jesus we are not talking about a straight line. The world did not just magically change the moment Jesus arrived. Jesus introduced principles that fundamentally challenged the world of His day and gradually, over centuries, altered the way many human beings thought and lived, resulting in massive transformation of the existing order of things. This can be demonstrated in so many areas of human thought and action: Education, science and technology, health care, the value of human life, slavery, civil rights, religious liberty, even music, literature and the arts. Some call this the “mustard-seed principle.”

In Luke 13:18-19 Jesus said: “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” The Kingdom of God was one of the analogies Jesus used to describe His mission in the world. In this passage He explains the analogy of the Kingdom with another analogy, the analogy of the mustard seed. His ministry was like the mustard seed, which is so small as to seem incapable of changing the world. But that tiny seed can grow into a tree-like bush, large enough for birds to make nest in its branches. The act of putting the seed into the ground does not immediately change the landscape. But given enough time and the right kind of environment, the resulting plant can make a major impact on the landscape.

To deepen the point on that same occasion, Jesus used a different analogy to illustrate the same basic principle: “And again he said, ‘To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.’” Luke 13:20-21. Jesus’ life and teachings were like leaven added to a dough of bread. There is no immediate visible difference between the leavened dough and the unleavened dough. But the leaven begins doing its work in the dough and over time, it rises and changes the outcome of both the dough and the baked bread that results. The impact of Jesus’ life and teachings cannot be fully assessed in terms of their immediate impact. One has to view a gradual, almost imperceptible transformation of the world over the course of human history.

Paul addresses the same issue in Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The gospel of Jesus Christ does not always have immediate, visible impact. It involves a gradual transformation of people and societies. It requires critical thought and application to achieve maximum impact. It may require deep commitment and sacrificial action on the part of many to achieve its impact on the world. It often requires going against the grain of prevailing orthodoxies.

The early Christians didn’t set out to change the world. They didn’t see overthrowing Rome as a major task. But the transformation of the world would happen gradually, as a by-product of changed lives. The influence of Jesus was and is not obvious in the world. But it ended up overturning the world of His time and has resulted more recently in massive transformation of the way human beings do things and experience life. I will be exploring several of these transformations in blogs to come. We will begin next time with the theme of education. Education is, perhaps, the greatest agent for transforming the world today. But the transforming power of education today is largely a by-product of Jesus’ life and teachings. Seem like an over-reach? Just stay tuned.

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? My Goal for the Rest of This Series (What If– 7)

Anyone can draw up a moral code, the challenge is getting anyone to follow it without some sense of a divine standard. There are really only two options for developing a societal code of morals and ethics. You can follow an inspirational figure like Jesus or you can bow to some superior power who enforces its moral and ethical will on others. In the history of the human race, it appears that no one has been more inspirational than Jesus of Nazareth. Remove Him from the equation and His message becomes like a cut flower. Separated from its roots, it is still beautiful, but it won=t last long. The 20th Century showed us what the world would be like if Jesus had never been born. It also showed us what the universe would be like, if Satan were in charge. For all its horrors, the 20th Century is crucial evidence in the Great Controversy. God=s desire is for our good, He truly can be trusted. And the best evidence for that is Jesus’ impact on history.

I cannot prove to you, as a historian, that Jesus was God in human flesh. What I can say is that He was the most influential human being who ever lived. If you have committed your life to Him and He is real to you, you are not an idiot. If you have not committed your life to Him, you would be wise to consider it, it might be the smartest decision you=ll ever make.

But is the whole story of the Jesus of history really being told? Would the world really be better off if Jesus had never been born? A good historical researcher will not be limited by one side of the story, but will consider the whole body of evidence. Based on the whole body of evidence, I would argue that Jesus= life and teaching unleashed more innovation and positive outcomes than any other human being in all of history. Our very familiarity with Christianity as it is today can blind us to the revolutionary and transformative implications of Jesus= life and teachings.

In this series, I am not aiming to prove Jesus was God and that all should follow Him. History alone cannot do that. But I aim to show that purely as a human being, Jesus did more to influence subsequent history than any other person who ever lived. In the blog to follow, I hope to show that if Jesus had never been born, higher education as we know it would likely never have happened. And if higher education had never happened, the fruits of higher education, like science, technology and advanced health care, would likely not have happened either. I can’t wait to take you on this journey with me.