The Convincing Moral Character of Jesus

This argument will assume that you’re familiar with Jesus, and that you think He does have a supremely good moral character. If you do not believe this, then I suggest you carefully read the Gospels, study and think about them, and come to your own conclusion. This is more intended as an explanation of why I believe, rather than an argument to convince someone else, based on what I see in Jesus.

And what I see is, as I say, a supremely good moral character. In defiance of all custom and authority of the day, He did what was right. And not only did He do what was right, He explained and taught others, He had insights into the moral good that have never since been replicated. The greatest moral figures throughout history, those with the highest levels of moral reasoning, those who we have all looked up to, have looked up to Jesus. Even they recognise it.

Decades ago, Lawrence Kohlberg made some very interesting discoveries about the moral development of children and adults. To summarize (here’s some more detail), what we find is that people develop their moral reasoning ability in distinct, qualitatively different stages. It’s reasonably easy to recognise one stage from another, people always go through them one after the other and never skip, and rarely regress. People at higher stages can understand the reasoning of the stages below them (though they are distasteful of that reasoning), they feel drawn to and recognise higher stages, but importantly cannot imitate those higher stages. If you have a stage 4 person pretending to be stage 5, and a stage 5 person, and you question them and challenge them enough, the stage 5 person will remain consistent while the stage 4 person will eventually break down and admit (or demonstrate, if they’re stubborn) a lack of understanding.

So while none of us are at a stage of moral reasoning high enough to properly fully understand Jesus, we can recognise the supremacy of His moral character. The person of Jesus has a true moral character that cannot be faked, He really is that good. He is questioned and challenged enough in the Gospels to verify it to me, He really is supremely virtuous.

And so if He is that virtuous, I trust Him. Jesus alludes to this kind of reasoning in John 14:11, where He tells the disciples to trust what He says because He’s the one saying it. And then He says “or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”. Jesus believes that His character should actually be more convincing than His miracles. Miracles can be faked, but moral character cannot.

The fact that this moral character cannot be faked also means that Jesus cannot be an invention. An author cannot convincingly write a character wiser than they are, they’d have to be that wise themselves. They might be able to provide one or two deepities, but if the character is challenged enough in their story, their “wisdom” will be exposed. Similarly, no author (let alone 4 authors in the case of the Gospels) could write a character at a higher moral stage than they themselves are at.

Now it’s relatively easy to write a character who behaves more morally than we do. I might write a character who gave money to the homeless person that I callously walked past, that’s not hard. We all recognise our own moral failures, and could create someone without them. What can’t be faked is the actual moral reasoning, the explanations and arguments for why we ought to do what we ought to do. Read more of Kohlberg to understand properly what I mean here.

And so if Jesus was an invention of an author, then it must be the case that the author was at the same level of moral reasoning that Jesus was at. And so we should trust them when they tell us that Jesus was a real person who did all of these things.

There are some objections here. Someone might say that Jesus was a real, virtuous person, but that later authors added the claims of divinity to the story. However if you look at Jesus’ moral system, you can see that these claims are central and integrative to the entire system, which would be incoherent without them. They can’t have been added without the system itself being added.

And now we are at the conclusion: Jesus has a supremely virtuous character that compels us to trust Him, and so when He tells us that He is the incarnate Son of God who died for our sins, and that we must repent of our sins, trust in His name, and obey God, we are compelled to believe Him. Because as the officer says in John 7:46: No-one ever spoke like this man. 

A summary of scriptural support for the Trinity

Defence of the Trinity

I regularly get criticism that the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the scriptures, but instead is invented by men. I have decided to write this as a summary of the biblical evidence for the orthodox position on the Trinity. That is, that the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are equally God, three persons of one divine being/substance. Eternal, indivisible, and unchanging. I won’t lay out exactly what this means, or the full implications,  that is for other people to do. But I will provide the evidence for it.

Part 1: The Father is God

This will be the easiest section. Unitarians, those who deny the Trinity, believe that only the Father is God. But I will include it for the sake of completeness.

Here is a single, sufficient piece of evidence: Jesus calls the Father God.

John 10:27: Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”

If the Father is Jesus’ God, then the Father is God.

Part 2: Jesus is God

This will be the first contentious section. The most obvious part of scripture to talk about here is John 1:1-3. Now the Word here is Jesus. John 1:14 is pretty clear about that. So what does John 1:1-3 say?

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

Jesus was not only with God, but He was God. Some translators note that there is an article in the first mention of God and none in the second. A more literal, word-for-word reading is this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the word was God”. So the Word is not “the God”. But Trinitarians accept that the God that the Word was with is the Father, and the Word is not the Father. But the Word is the God Himself, even if He isn’t the Father. He was God.

He also is the creator. How many thing exist that are uncreated? Only one: God. God is the creator of all that exists apart from Himself. But in v3, we see that the Word is the creator of everything that was created. So the Word Himself must be uncreated. That is, He is God.

We will also look at the end of John.

John 20:27-29 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Thomas recognises that Jesus is God. In the Old Testament, what happens when someone calls an angel “Lord”? The angel rebukes them, and tells them to worship God alone. But what does Jesus do? He encourages people to believe the same thing as Thomas. That He is God.


2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:

Jesus is the God and Saviour. No way around it, Jesus is God. Some might say He’s simply “a god”, rather than “God”, that He’s a lesser deity to YHWH the creator. But we know that Christians are forbidden from worshipping anything other than YHWH the creator, the almighty God. And yet we are told to worship Jesus. So Jesus is YHWH. Which he claims in John 8:58. Remember that YHWH means “I am”. When Jesus says “Before Abraham was, I Am”, He is calling Himself YHWH. He could have said “I was”, but He chose His words carefully to carry this meaning. The audience understood this, they picked up stones to stone Him.

As The Gospel Coalition has helpfully summarised:

Jesus has honour that is only to be given to God. Christians may only worship God alone (Deut. 6:13; Matt 4:9-10), and yet they are  to worship Jesus (Matt. 14:33; Heb. 1:6; Rev 1:17).  Jesus has the same attributes as God: eternal (John 1:1-3; 8:58), all-powerful (Matt. 28:18), all-knowing (John 21:17), and loving (Rom 8:35-39). Jesus has the name above every name, (Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus is called God (John 20:28), Lord (Acts 1:24), the King of kings (Rev 19:16), Saviour (Luke 2:11), and the First and the Last (Rev 1:7-8). These titles belong to God alone. Jesus is said to be the creator (John 1:3), the sustainer of all things (Heb. 1:2-3), He is sovereign over the forces of nature (Matt. 8:2327), the one who forgives sins (Matt 9:1-8), and even the one who gives life (John 1:4; 5:21). In fact it could be said that everything that God does for us, Jesus does for us.  Jesus sits on God’s throne (Rev. 3:21), ruling over all things (Rev 5:13). This is nothing short of claiming to be equal with God (John 10:27-33). Jesus is the judge of all history, of the entire world, of each person – to Him every knee will bow

Jesus is almighty God, the creator, equal in divinity with the Father.

Psalm 102 praises the “Lord” quite a lot. The Lord sits and rules in heaven, the Lord will restore Zion, the Lord laid the foundations of the Earth, the Lord endures forever and never changes. I don’t see any reason to say that the Psalmist is talking about a different being here than they normally are when they use the word “Lord”. But Hebrews 1 takes this Psalm as being about the Son, the Son is the Lord, as much as the Father is. The Son is God as much as the Father is.

Want to see more about how Jesus is God? Then we have two more posts here and here on this topic.

Part 3: The Spirit is God

Some people don’t even believe that the Spirit is a real person, but instead is just a manifestation of the Father’s action, or something like that. So here we will show that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.

We see the Spirit being given attributes that only God has. This will demonstrate that the Spirit is divine Himself. The Spirit creates (Job 33:4, Psalm 104:30), the Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14), the Spirit is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7–8) and omniscient (1 Corinthians 2:10). Who is the eternal, omnipresent, omniscient creator? God alone.

The Spirit is a person distinct from the Father, as He is sent by the Father (John 14:26). The Spirit is distinct from the Son, as the Son calls the Spirit a “He”, a different entity to the Son. (John 14:27).

The Spirit is referred to as God in Acts 5. In v3, Peter says that Ananias has lied to the Spirit. Then in v4, he says that he has lied to God. Clearly the Spirit is God. A similar interchange is used in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 6:19. In 3, we are temples of God. In 6, we are temples of the Spirit. So the Spirit is God.

The Spirit is not just God, but YHWH, the almighty creator. In Hebrews 3:7–11, it is the Spirit who says “Israel tried and tested me…”. But who did Israel try and test? It was YHWH, their God. In Hebrews 10:15–17, it is the Spirit who makes a covenant with Israel. But who made a covenant with Israel? It was YHWH. So the Spirit is fully YHWH. Just as Jesus is, and just as the Father is.

Part 4: There are only three

Some have asked why there are three rather than four (or more or less). Some theologians such as Aquinas have attempted to articulate precisely why it is that God exists as a Trinity in terms of theology and philosophy. I will not attempt to do this, that’s beyond me. Instead, here’s the evidence that God is only and precisely three persons.

We see in many places all three mentioned together, with no others. Here are some examples of the three together:

  • 1 Corinthians 12:4–6
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14
  • 1 Peter 1:2
  • Matthew 28:19
  • Matthew 3:16
  • Matthew 12:28
  • Luke 3:22
  • John 14:26
  • John 15:26
  • Acts 2:33
  • Romans 1:4
  • Romans 8:9
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11
  • Galatians 4:6
  • Ephesians 1:17
  • Ephesians 2:18
  • Ephesians 2:22
  • Hebrews 9:14
  • Acts 10:38
  • Acts 1:4

Now I won’t exegete each of these, I leave that to you. But you can see that the three members of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, appear together all throughout the New Testament. And when they appear, they do so alone. There is none another among them, and so there is no other member of the Godhead. There are precisely three.

Do Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29 teach that faith must be without evidence?

There are two commonly cited verses used to justify Fideism (faith is belief without or against evidence). These are Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29.

Hebrews first, let’s look at some parts of the rest of the chapter. I recommend reading through the whole chapter (and indeed the whole book) to understand the context of Hebrews 11:1.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

Did Noah believe without evidence? Not really, God literally spoke to him, he heard the voice of God. What was it that he had faith in? He had faith in the promises of God, that what God said would happen would happen. And it did, God did flood the world. In other words, Noah trusted God.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Did Abraham believe without evidence? No, God spoke to him and made promises to him. Abraham trusted in God’s promises, trusted that God would do what He said. And He did. This was his faith.

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.

What was Sarah’s faith? Considering God faithful when He made a promise. Again, faith is trusting in the promises of God.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Why is this faith? Because they trusted the promises of God, that God would keep them safe and deliver them to the promised land.

The chapter gives many more examples, and in vs 13-16 makes it clear that faith is trusting in the promises of God. Specifically, the promise of eternal life. That we will come to live in our own promised land, taken out of where we were, like Abraham and Moses.

So faith is not being confident in something we have no evidence for. Faith is trusting in the promises of God, trusting that God will do what He says He will do.

What then is it that we hope for that we do not see, as per verse 1? It is eternal life. Abraham, when he trusted God, hoped for the new land he was going to be given. He didn’t see it, but he hoped for it and was assured of it, because God promised it to him. The same is true of Moses. The same is true of Sarah and her child. But it is not reasonable to say that none of these people had evidence, they all had direct conversations with God, where He promised these things. A promise from God is strong evidence.

What then of Jesus’ words? “Blessed are those that have not seen, and believe”? It doesn’t clearly say that believing with no evidence = blessed, like many claim. In fact it seems that the meaning is quite different. The verse is a resurrection appearance of Jesus. In every other resurrection appearance, Jesus is commanding the disciples to go and tell others.

This starts in 20:17, where Jesus commands Mary to tell the other disciples.

Then in 20:21 in another appearance, where Jesus sends the disciples out.

Then 20:29, the passage we are discussing.

Then all of chapter 21, in which the net full of fish that the disciple catch represents them being made “fishers of men” as Matthew calls it, it represents the fruits of their evangelism.

Every other resurrection appearance in John has a focus on evangelism, and spreading the Gospel that they know to other people.

So when Jesus tells the disciples “Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believed”, it seems reasonable to expect this to follow the same pattern. It seems more reasonable to interpret this as “There will be others who have not seen me, who are not of us now, who will come to believe and be blessed”, or something along those lines. It’s reminding the disciples that they are not the only people that God has planned to receive.

Furthermore, Jesus desiring belief without evidence is contradicted by John 14:11, where Jesus expects His disciples to believe He is one with God because of the miracles that Jesus has performed. He expects the miracles to be evidence for this belief. If Jesus wanted belief without evidence why would He say this?

So the commonly cited verses do not support Fideism, and there is scriptural evidence against it.

Further reading:

Ed Feser on Classical Theism: SES Podcast

Here is a good podcast from Southern Evangelical Seminary with Ed Feser on Classical Theism vs Theistic Personalism. People who know me will know that I am firmly in the Classical Theist camp.

Feser’s blog: