Interfaith Now
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Interfaith Now

How Likely is it that Jesus is the Messiah (Part IV)?

Photo by nour tayeh on Unsplash
  • the probability of theism or naturalism — since this is likely to be an important factor influencing whether Jesus or anyone else, was the Messiah
  • the prior probability of a Messiah — Bayesian approaches start with a prior probability which is then updated with evidence in the model
  • how likely Jesus was the promised divine Messiah
  • how likely Jesus was the promised suffering Messiah
  • how likely Jesus lived during the period predicted for the Messiah’s arrival
  • evidence against Jesus being the Messiah
  • how likely the evidence for Jesus would be if he wasn’t the Messiah

1. Probability of Theism and Naturalism

  • theism (one God)
  • polytheism (many gods of finite power)
  • naturalism (no gods)
  • Theism (one God) is more simple than polytheism (more than one god)
  • Laws of nature are more likely if there is one God than if there are many competing gods who must cooperate in some way

2. Prior Probability of a Messiah

  • p(M|T)=0.25 probability of Messiah if there is a God, multiplied by
  • p(T)=0.5 probability of a God

3a. Hebrew Bible on the Messiah

  • The divinity of the Messiah: he will be the divine son of man (Daniel 7), and will be called Mighty God (Isaiah 9)
  • The suffering Messiah: the Messiah will be killed (Zechariah 12–13), and his death will take away the sins of his people (Daniel 9, Zechariah 12–13, Isaiah 53). His people will reject him, but non-Jews from all nations will believe in him (Isaiah 49, 53; Haggai 2)
  • The Messiah will come before the destruction of the second temple: Daniel 9, Haggai 2, and Malachi 3 all suggest the Messiah will come before the destruction of the second temple. In addition, genealogical records that were kept to identify the sons of David (the Messiah) were destroyed with the second temple.

3b: How likely Jesus was the Divine Messiah?

3c: How likely was it that Jesus was the suffering Messiah

3d: Jesus and the timing of the Messiah

3e: Evidence against Jesus — no eternal peace…yet

3f: How likely is the evidence for Jesus if he was the Messiah?

4: How likely is the evidence for Jesus — if he wasn’t the Messiah?

  • How does Jesus compare with other claimants to the Messiah?
  • How likely would a Messiah claimant live before 70CE?
  • How likely is it a future Messiah will better fit the criteria?

4a: No one else comes close to meeting the criteria

Table 1. Key candidates for the Messiah

4b:How likely a Messiah claimant would live before 70CE?

  • the Hebrew Bible predicted the Messiah’s death during the time he lived.
  • Jesus met so many of these criteria during this historical period.

4c: How likely is a future Messiah?

  • Daniel 9, Haggai 2, and Malachi 3 suggest the Messiah would come before 70 CE.
  • We can no longer verify one of the primary criteria for the Messiah (son of David). David’s descendants have been untraceable since the 11th century.

4d: How likely was Jesus not the Messiah?

5: Probability that Jesus is the Messiah

Figure 1. Bayesian network on evidence that Jesus is Messiah.
  • the probability of Jesus being the Messiah updates from a prior probability of 12.5% to a posterior probability of 93%.
  • the probability of theism updates from an agnostic prior (50%) to near certainty that theism is true (96%).
  • you’re gnostic that the theistic God does not exist (even an assumption that there is only 5% that God exists still results in Jesus being more likely than not the Messiah).
  • you think Jesus cannot be the Messiah since he didn’t bring world peace in the first century.

Further justification



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Nick Meader

My background is in psychology, epidemiology and medical statistics. I’m mainly discussing here theology, philosophy of religion and mental health.