Meet the Real Jesus

tell the truth

The ground I covered in this brief series does not come near to addressing all issues associated with the historical Jesus topic. My scope was limited to the very popular and straightforward claim that prior to the 4th century, the four Gospels were not considered authoritative. Of course, the consequence of such is that Jesus wasn’t who we all have been lead to believe he was. And if he was not who he claims, then it proves the Christian religion is false. Therefore, so it goes, let your conscience be at ease for you will not face him in judgment. There is no threat of Hell. However, if he is who he says he is, then the opposite is true. That is my concern for my readers.

My study of and exposure to the historic Jesus reconstructionism has shown me that like the inquisitive child there will always be another question asked. In rapid fire, the next question is posed before the previous one was fully answered. The curious child that I imagine is an information junkie, a sponge, her young synapses firing at peak efficiency and her memory cells absorbing knowledge. Those with the Da Vinci Code Perspective don’t strike me that way. It smacks of the skeptic. The skeptic asks questions not to gain knowledge but as a tactician with a destructive goal in mind. I write that not to be provocative but to appeal to what I think is an obstacle to truth. The skeptic has made up his mind, not because of, but in spite of the evidence.

I see this sort of thing often in my workplace. My job is somewhat like the old Dragnet TV dragnetshow where Sergeant Friday, in his characteristically stoic monotone manner, reminds his informants to give him “Just the facts ma’am.” My day-job is to find failures in micro-electronic circuits. The results of my investigation can have relatively severe consequences. My findings may cause a production line to shut down for long periods, which costs the company a lot of money. Or, they could expose a design weakness and harm the company’s technical reputation. The bottom line is that some problem exists and it will eventually implicate one department or another, or even the customer. The temptation for upper management to spin the results in order to “point the finger” at the most opportune group rather than the true source can be strong. One way that plays out is for conclusions to be made before I have even begun the investigation. Management may implement a change to a product or process based on speculations made in a meeting room with no input, no facts, from the investigation! Sadly, such reactions can cause more damage than they try to avoid.

The best approach is always to let the evidence lead you to the conclusions, to the true point of failure. With truth on your side, then you can have confidence of implementing a legitimate fix to the real problem. In the end, everyone benefits. The product gets better, the company’s reputation is spared, relationships with the customer improves, on and on. It sounds simple, but when the consequences are high and emotions get involved, the right process can be short-circuited.

Perhaps the historic Jesus debate is like that. The skeptic is faced with too great a consequence and has made up her mind to present a solution to a fictitious problem, irrespective of the evidence. Nag Hammadi is an archeological treasure for sure. It reveals a great deal of insight into second century thought and culture. But for modern man to implement a change, to re-write the events of two thousand years ago makes no historical or logical sense—when we know the first documents of eyewitness testimony were written between thirty and sixty years removed from the events and extant copies have proven to be an extremely reliable, continual historical legacy of those testimonies.

Let me recommend to my readers some of the books I read in my Professional Doctoral studies that were the foundation for this blog series:

eyewitnessesJesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, by Richard Bauckham. Bauckham is a Cambridge scholar and Professor Emeritus at St. Andrews University in Scotland. His book explains, largely from the writings of Papias, that the four Gospels were written in a manner consistent with 1st century culture of eyewitness testimony. In the world of historiography (“doing history”), having reliable early manuscripts of eyewitness testimony is the “Holy Grail.”

The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, by Michael Licona. Licona’s liconawork exposes the point I made in the first blog post that historians do not have an established quality control method for documenting history. Because of that void, professional historians went through a phase akin to postmodernism—you cannot know anything for sure. But the profession is returning to its senses and affirming that yes, there are ways to discern the past with significant confidence after all. Perhaps the search-for-the-historical-Jesus movement was caught up in that milieu. Licona’s work provides professional historians with the historiographical methodology that has been lacking. I think this a key book, but beware…it is loooong and technical!

missing gospels bockThe Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities. By Darrell Bock. Dr. Bock really is the go-to guy when it comes to all things Nag Hammadi. Ever since The Da Vinci Code, Dr. Bock has been called upon to respond to these popular and erroneous publications that storm popular culture. Every few years another reconstructionist book about “the real Jesus” gets published because of a newly-found “lost Gospel” that supposedly destroys the biblical account. If you are persuaded by these things, please read Dr. Bock’s books.

how we got bible_How We Got the Bible, by Timothy Paul Jones. I’ve mentioned this one throughout the blog. I consider it a “one-stop-shop” of solid, accessible facts about the authenticity, reliability, and transmission of the Bible. The way I put it in a class assignment (yes, I’m quoting myself): “[Dr. Jones’s book] is a practical distillation of the massive pile of scholarship written on the subjects of biblical canonicity and textual criticism…a compendium of the key dates, persons, facts, and issues…covering patristics to statistics.”

I began this blog series stating that by the end we will be able to ask “The real Jesus to please stand up.” The historical and circumstantial evidence clearly show that the traditional, Christian history concerning the person and work of Jesus was accepted in the 1st century, not the 4th. The literature found in Nag Hammadi does not warrant a re-write of Christian history, but rather affirms it.

Indeed, the personal stakes are high. While I have tried to present a reasonable defense for the traditional Jesus, the issue transcends merely winning or losing an argument. The plea of the Christian faith, from the self-sacrificed and resurrected Jesus, that his followers have continued through the ages, is “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

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Were the Gospel authors aware of their own authority?

four gospels

In the previous blog post I pointed out the claim that the pre-4th century church did not recognize the authority of the four Gospels is self-refuting when you consider exactly who the early church was. Their very existence, identification, and organization composed a robust quality control system of the Gospel narrative, consistent with the four Gospel accounts of their origin. In contrast, the Nag Hammadi documents, upon which alternative histories are imagined, represent no identifiable group of people. Therefore, to claim that the early church did not recognize the four Gospels as authoritative, and that the “lost Gospels” were true, is self-defeating. The only authoritative body in existence to make such determination was the very one who produced the four Gospels. If the lost writings were accurate, there would be no Christian church to ask this question of. So again, we see that revisionist history is make-believe.

Gnosticism in the 1st century was not a people, recognizing authoritative documents; rather, it was an amorphous mixture of Greek philosophy and sketchy Christian theology with differing schools of thought that evolved with scarcely recognizable cohesion well into the 2nd century.  In the decades immediately following Jesus, there was no formal Gnostic church with a competitively viable alternative historical record. In the 1st century, the only Christian assemblies were those of apostolic origin.  These churches were committed to what we know as the traditional, historic message of Jesus.

NagHamadi-mapFurthermore, the early church openly opposed those incipient false teachings, and in some cases, the very documents unearthed in Nag Hammadi. In this post, I will take a look at another significant, related aspect of the Da Vinci Code Perspective claim of the church’s recognition of the Gospels’ authority. Borrowing from Michael Kruger’s book, The Question of Canon, he asks in chapter four, “Were the New Testament authors unaware of their own authority?” And in chapter five, “Were the New Testament books first regarded as scripture at the end of the second century?” I think these are great questions to pursue that help us understand why I champion the traditional church record and not the re-constructed historical record. If the Gospel authors understood they were writing authoritatively in the context of a close-knit, organized, message-driven group—which they were—then the claim that the four Gospels were not authoritative until the 4th century is obliterated. Kruger’s book is rather technical, it has to be to pass muster, but I’ll try to hit the highlights. After all, claims have to be supported.

Chapter four argues along similar lines of my previous post, the authority structure of the church. The twelve apostles (Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias) plus the one “untimely born,” Paul, were the highest office bearers in the first Christian church. These were the men hand-picked by Jesus. When determining who would replace Judas Iscariot, Peter set fort the criteria “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” Acts 1:21-22.  With the risen Christ ascended, His select men were given authority, demonstrated in the signs and wonders (miracles) that mimicked Jesus’s. Apostolic authority was so highly valued that the copy-cat Gospels, as well as later fringe churches, manufactured apostolic connections to gain a hearing.

Paul’s epistles provide the most straightforward expression of the significance of apostolic authority. As the 12th hand-picked apostle, some two years after Jesus’s resurrection, his authority was the most questioned. Therefore, he defends his credentials in several places. The point here is that the church did not blindly follow anyone or any teaching, apostolic authority was required. Was that authority recognizable within the four Gospels?  is Kruger’s topic. He states, “Our thesis is a simple one: New Testament authors, generally speaking, demonstrate awareness that their writings passed down authentic apostolic tradition and therefore bore supreme authority in the life of the church” (pg. 121). New Testament scholarship has concluded that the Gospel of Mark is a record of the witness of Peter. The Gospel is replete with evidence for this. Kruger adds, “Aside from the fact that Mark’s connection to Peter was well known among the early church fathers and it is attested by other parts of the New Testament.” (pg. 133-34).

Likewise, the historical attestation and internal evidence of the Gospel of John links it to apostolic authority. Whether you hold to its self-proclaimed authorship (John) as the apostle or the later “elder” John, the connection between John 15:27 and 21:24 is clear: In 15:27 Jesus prophesied, “You will also bear witness because you have been with me from the beginning” and in 21:24, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things.” (Kruger pg. 137). Now, let’s briefly consider each of the four Gospels.

Luke’s expressed purpose for writing was to pass along the apostolic, authoritative traditions: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

The evidence in Matthew is less straightforward but still present. Stylistically, it follows Luke in how it mimics Old Testament scripture. These patterns are deliberate and communicate a connection of continued, divine truth. You will have to read the book to get the nitty-gritty details.

irenaeus

Kruger’s chapter 5 takes the next step from the Bible’s self-attestation of apostolic authority to the recognition of such by the 2nd and 3rd century church fathers. As Kruger notes negatively, “If these books [New Testament] were not written to be Scripture, then we should not expect to see them used as Scripture until a much later time in the life of the church.” (pg. 156.) The historical evidence is positive. We do see the next generations using them as Scripture (as divinely authoritative). Kruger points out that current New Testament scholarship places the date of the church’s acceptance of the books as Scripture in the end of the second century. That is largely based on the writing of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. “Most notable is his affirmation that the four Gospels were so certain that their existence is entrenched in the very structure of creation….”

I will leave the support for my argument there. Considering that even non-Christian scholars recognize the church’s use of the Gospels in the 2nd century,  the Da Vinci Code Perspective of a 4th century date is dealt another death-blow.

My final, upcoming, post not only summarizes and provides some helpful resources for further study, but it also takes on a reflective nature and asks the skeptic to consider his skepticism in light of these very clear historical facts.

Who exactly was “the early church?”

 

As I thought through the claim that the pre-4th century church did not regard the four New Testament Gospels as authoritative, it occurred to me to ask, “Have you considered exactly who these ancient people are?” This is a ginormous question for skeptics claiming we must re-write the history books about the church’s own authoritative documents. It is most certainly one of several elephants in the room.

The Da Vinci Code Perspective (see blog post 1 and blog post 2) pits the Nag Hammadi documents, the Gnostic Gospels, against the four New Testament Gospels as the proper source behind the “real” Jesus of Nazareth. Like Gnosticism itself, it asserts special, almost mystical insight into supposedly murky and mysterious things that are otherwise unknowable. However, the reality is that we can lay the historical data out in the open, side-by-side with the four Gospels, and compare them with a great deal of clarity. No special glasses are needed.

urrim and thumin

Back to the elephant…WHO supposedly did not recognize the four Gospels as authoritative? The answer of course is the Christian church. The Da Vinci Code Perspective overlooks the fact that the 1st century church owes its very existence to the historical events surrounding the traditional Gospel message—Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who lived and died and was resurrected to atone for sin. It was their impetus. It was their very identity. The 1st century church and its message of the Good News is rooted in the historical narrative. The four Gospels and Acts (Luke Volume 2) chronicle the history. If the lost Gospels were accurate and the Jesus of the revised history were true, there would be no Christian church in the 4th century or the 21st century to even look back upon the 1st. It would be utterly different. Such a Jesus and such a church is a phantom. Let’s follow the historical bread crumbs back to the beginning of the trail.

 eyewitnesses

First, there was a pre-4th century church who witnessed the events, proclaimed them, and wrote prolifically about Jesus and the Christian faith. So, we do not have to wonder and speculate about what these people believed about Jesus. The revisionists justify their need to re-construct Jesus by introducing doubt about the gap between the events of Jesus’s life and when the Gospels were penned. Certainly, there was a gap in time, but it is not cloaked in mystery. This is the fog-machine needed to peddle their special anti-fog glasses. Richard Bauckham’s book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony, makes a very strong case that “The Gospel texts are much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses told their stories or passed on their traditions than is commonly envisaged in current scholarship.” (pg. 6). The take-away here is, evidence shows the early church was comprised of eyewitnesses to the events; and the four Gospels, not the lost Gospels, are reliable hard copies of their orally transmitted testimonies.

The strength of the traditional history is that it is traceable to the eyewitnesses, opposed to Nag Hammadi which is traceable to a detached group of people some one to three hundred years removed.  Michael Licona, in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, points out, “It is often proper for those Christians who side with orthodoxy to say that the Gnostics got things wrong when referring to the teachings of the historical Jesus and his disciples. The Gnostic literature is later than the New Testament literature, usually quite a bit later. Moreover, that the Gnostic literature contains authentic apostolic tradition is dubious, with the possible exception of the Gospel of Thomas. But there is even uncertainty regarding Thomas.” (pg. 37).

quality-control

Second, concerning who the early church was, their name is important. We could perhaps call them “the meet-ers.” We use the term “church” with no obvious significance for us today. It is an anglicized, Germanic transliteration of the Greek word meaning “of the Lord.” It relates more to the place of worship than the people who are worshipping. As in our day, we see a building with a steeple and think “church.”

However, the early Christians did not have such structures. They met in private homes. The key is, they met. Their very name, “ekklesia,” in Greek, was an ordinary word for any assembly. They were known for what was most obvious about them…they gathered together often and regularly. Why is that important to this discussion? From the very beginning, they were a distinguishable, identifiable group of people with clearly recognized leadership. Jesus had twelve men in his inner circle. Eleven of them went on to lead this assembly of converts (most of whom were eyewitnesses, even participants in Jesus’s crucifixion).  Luke, the historian, quotes from Peter’s first sermon, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” Luke explains, “when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart.” (Acts 2:36-37). After that sermon, the membership exploded. “But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4). Such growth required more leadership. The church appointed deacons (servant-leaders) to handle the practical needs of the group while the apostles were responsible for teaching and preaching. As the church expanded and moved beyond Jerusalem, local pastors, also called elders and bishops, were appointed to oversee the new “ekklesias” (congregations.)

Let us try to grasp the significance of these things. Christianity emerged onto the world stage with a message of faith around the historical events of Jesus of Nazareth. The message, the Gospel, was everything. It was their identity. It was the reason for which they gathered. It was the reason for which Jews and non-Jews abandoned their families, their way of life, overnight, and joined the church at great personal expense—even martyrdom. Built into the psyche of the assembly was preserving that message. The early church had an extraordinarily robust quality control system in place. As Timothy Paul Jones notes: “Early Christians rejected these [other] writings because they were looking for trustworthy testimony about Jesus, and that’s not what they found when the [sic] read the “lost Scriptures.” (pg. 88).

By contrast, the Gnostics had no structure or identifiable group. There was no creed, no gnosticbody of doctrine, and no cohesive leadership. Gnosticism was a philosophy, not a church, in an incipient form during and after the time of Christ. Nag Hammadi shows that a hundred or so years later it had gained some consistency of topics with disconnected leader like Carpocrates, Saturninus, Basilides, and Valentinus (See the Missing Gospels, by Darrel Bock, pg. 10).

Therefore, when the claim is made that the four New Testament Gospels were not authoritative among the early church, we must point out the elephants in the room. The church was vitally linked to the message, the events, and the people of the Gospels. The church produced them. There was no alternative, authoritative body or documents. The Da Vinci Code Perspective is self-refuting.

In the next post, I’ll discuss if the Gospel writers were even aware that they were writing scripture!

 

Jesus#2, “Where did you come from?”

time mag jesus

Before asking our “To Tell the Truth” contestants some probing questions, I feel the need to explain something. The subject of this brief blog series requires me to take an informational, even corrective approach than I would prefer. If you knew me personally, you would know that I have a dry, witty sense of humor and that I really enjoy making people laugh with clever puns and jokes rather than confronting them over disagreements. Like most people, I am amused by and enjoy reading blogs about someone’s adventures trekking across the globe, complete with amazing photographs of places I will never see for myself. I am entertained by creative people who are able to notice and then transform a piece of garage-sale junk into a stunningly stylish bit of décor.  But that is not my task here. Instead, I am writing about serious matters—things associated with hope in this life and for life after death. These topics are not fodder solely for philosophers and theologians; they are the things that motivate us in our daily lives. I maintain that faith undergirds all we do, for the irreligious and the religious. We all have faith. Faith either trusts that Jesus is nothing or that he is everything. My blog attempts to direct your thoughts to a critical point of intersection between the spiritual and the physical worlds by looking at the historical claims of Christianity. When we deal with the person of Jesus and the historical record about him, we are confronted with a cardinal claim of Christianity: God came to Earth.

When it comes to Jesus, I plead with you to not give in to unfounded conspiracy theories or fanciful imaginations of his life, but rather pursue the facts. I find it ironic that many people in our scientific day seem inclined, even pre-disposed, to accept a revised account of Jesus when the original accounts are so solid. These are people, perhaps yourself, who otherwise rally around the flag of Science, resolute to consider only objective data and draw conclusions on the facts alone, yet they jettison the historical information about Jesus. Have you researched the data for yourself? Have you assumed the unreliability of the Bible and the historical record of the church or have you researched it? Are you really as scientific as you claim? Let’s now do a bit of cross-examination to separate the impostors from the genuine.

In the first blog, I named names. I pointed to two examples of revised history about Jesus. The authors’ perspectives were largely speculative, putting forth a theory and not a biography. They disavow traditional history and the documents from which it is founded, in favor of alternative documents with scant information. With tinted glasses donned, they anachronistically import their ideas into the historical record, seeing what is not there.

da vinci code

I’ve coined the phrase The Da Vinci Code Perspective, for my Jesus #2 candidate. It is short-hand for the popular notion that, The topic can be further narrowed to whether or not the four Gospels were recognized as accurate biographies of Jesus prior to the fourth century. Ironically, this perspective also claims to correct revised history. So, my first question to this Jesus #2 theory is, “Can you show me your ID?” or “What documents stand behind your story?”

nag hammadi

If the answer is, “The lost Gospels of Nag Hammadi,” we have our impostor. That sounds very mysterious and enlightening. Very Indiana jones-like. Revisionist theories have emerged due to an archaeological discovery of ancient documents in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Prior to that discovery, Bible skeptics took an altogether different approach. They questioned the traditionally-held authorship of many of the Bible’s individual books. German scholars based their theories on a book’s internal grammatical, stylistic, and thematic differences. The scholars postulated that Isaiah, for one example, was authored by several people over a long time. Their approach is known as “form criticism” and it has all but gone the way of the dodo in modern scholarship. It proved to be the hunch de jour.

My point to you is that attacks against the traditional historicity of the Bible is nothing new. The reason this blog is about the historical Jesus and not form criticism is because the winds of skepticism changed and now blow toward Nag Hammadi. Any suspicion leading you to question who the “real Jesus” is did not originate with you, but came filtered down from the academies. What do you know about these lost Gospels? For starters, not only is their content severely lacking supportable historical content, their authorship and connections to the events are dubious. Referring to the New Testament Gospels, Dr. Darrel Bock points out, “These [traditional materials] have value because of when they were written, and because of the persons who did the writing and their relationships to Jesus or those around Him. In historical work, sources rule.” (The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities pg. 83.) The opposite applies to the Gnostic, or lost Gospels. They have no value [as biographical documents] because of when they were written, and because of the persons who did the writing and the lack of relationship to Jesus or those around Him. They are relatively late, in a time notorious for false appeals to apostolic authority.

serapionThe late 2nd to early 3rd century church not only knew about these documents, they were battling against them in real-time. The Nag Hammadi documents actually validate the pre 4th century traditional record rather than displace it. Archaeologists did not unearth ancient documents that cause us to correct history; they resurrected the very documents of the false teachers about whom the church was warned to avoid! A compelling example comes from the eighth bishop of Antioch, Serapion, regarding the so-called Gospel of Peter. (The church at Antioch goes back to the first Christians.) Serapion wrote: “For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the rest of the apostles as Christ Himself. But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name, we as experienced persons reject, knowing that no such writings have been handed down to us. I supposed that all were in accord with the orthodox faith; and, although I had not read through the Gospel inscribed with the name of Peter which was brought forward by them…But, now that I have learnt from what has been told me that their mind was secretly cherishing some heresy, I will make all haste to come to you again….” See How We Got the Bible, by Timothy Paul Jones, pp. 62-63).

Whether you take the side of the New Testament Gospels or the Gnostic Gospels, what cannot be disputed is that the pre-4th century church did recognize the four New Testament Gospels as authoritative. Nag Hammadi may be news to us, but we are a bit late on the scene of history.

I have another question for Jesus #2, a real elephant in the room. But, it will have to wait for blog post #3.

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up

tell the truth

 

In the 1950’s the popular television game show “To Tell the Truth” entertained audiences by having panelists cross-examine three persons sitting before them in order to determine which was the real, semi-famous though unrecognizable person, they all claimed to be. The two impostors tried to fool the panelists by lying, leaving only the genuine to tell the truth. The show concluded by revealing the true person with the famous phrase, “Will the real [person’s name] please stand up!” With so many new theories about the “historical Jesus” presented to us nowadays, can we determine who the real Jesus is?

time mag jesus

Jesus was only a man. Obviously, there was something special about him, or there at least came to be something special about him, for him to garner such a following AND to have the years of human history calendared according to his birthday. But, he was likely nothing more than an ancient peasant, a political zealot, or a radical rabbi who lived an otherwise ordinary life, complete with a wife and kids. His noble acts and inspiring, anti-establishment words became legendary—think King Arthur or Robin Hood. Because Jesus lived during the time of Greek and Roman mythology, his legend became the stuff of gods. Think about it…the New Testament Gospels tell us he had a human mother and a divine father, walked on water, calmed a raging sea, dialogued with Satan, and cast out demons. And to top it off, just when his followers thought their movement was over, lo and behold Jesus came back from the dead!

 

Deification and Jesus-worship emerged over time. It took about three hundred years for the veneration to become official, public policy. In the 4th century, the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea gave Christians political power, social status, and the doctrinal framework necessary to build an organized religion for the masses. Oh yeah, did I mention they now had MONEY, and LOTS of it? Constantine’s religious legacy remains with us today. It remains somewhat like the Colosseum in Rome, a behemoth harkening back to a grand old past, but of no practical use in our modern world. Prior to the emperor and the ecclesiastical power-councils, the canonized Gospels were simply four legends among many: The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene to name a few. After all, we know that history gets written by the winners. Back then, the winner was the church. Once in power, the church dictated what documents were “God’s word” and declared the four Gospels were not legend, but truth, and promptly canonized them—conveniently disposing of all the other stories.

Therefore, to determine who the real Jesus is and what really happened prior to the 4th century, we must read what the losers wrote. When the dust settles, we will see Jesus was just a man. Perhaps he was even a great man, but he was nothing more than a man. Can I get an “amen?”

How does that portrayal of Jesus and the early church strike you? Is it more palatable than the Bible’s rendition and traditional church history? Before you go your way thinking I have affirmed what you suspected about the real Jesus and organized religion, I must tell you that there is a problem with my story. It is made up. It is nothing more than pearl-stringed notions. Like all historical fiction, there is just enough of a connection with history to make it seem plausible to the uninformed. I compiled the ideas from things I’ve heard other people say and from what I’ve read by revisionist historians and skeptics. However, the fact is, it is purely speculation fraught with the skeptic’s bias.

 

Before diving into some facts, I think it is important to name some names. There have been several books in recent years that have offered alternative stories, or revisionist history, about the life of Jesus—some have made the New York Times Bestsellers list. One such book I was given by a former Bible-believing family member, was Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (2013). Ten years before Zealot, there was The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003). That book is one of the best-selling books of all times at 80 million copies sold by 2009. It was made into a movie in 2006, featuring Tom Hanks. According to Wikipedia, “The film grossed $224 million in its worldwide opening weekend and a total of $758 million worldwide, becoming the second highest-grossing film of 2006.” Collectively, Dan Brown’s novels have sold more than 200 million copies!

Granted, The Da Vinci Code was marketed as fiction because it was a murder mystery novel. However, the murder story was intertwined with “the historical Jesus” concepts. (Those “in the know” recognize that term associated with scholars from the Jesus Seminar dating back to the 1980’s.) But, in these books, the real fiction is its historical narrative!

My criticism is nothing new. Both works I mentioned have come under fire for their poor history—see here for Zealot and here for The Da Vinci Code. I suspect, however, that of the millions who have read the books and watched the movie, a disproportionately low number are concerned about their historical integrity. In my case, my family member appealed to Reza Aslan’s credentials for credibility. He has a PhD. And he had his own show on CNN, Believer (which was a casualty of the volatile world of political correctness). So, there you go, Zealot IS reliable after all [tongue-in-cheek]. The point is that opposition to biblical orthodoxy and traditional Christian history left the distilleries of academia, was sold through the speakeasies of mass media outlets, and has inebriated ordinary Americans.

Earlier this year, I dialogued with a co-worker about some of the things you’ll read next in this blog. I attempted to correct his Da Vinci Code perspective. I asked how he knew what he was saying about Constantine, conspiracies, and church history was accurate. His answer was that he had watched documentaries about it; and “not to be rude,” he told me, “they are historians.” Oh my! I see. I couldn’t resist (not to brag, but to make a point), “I do have a Master of Theology degree in Church History and am pursuing a Doctorate [D.Ed.Min] in Apologetics from world-renown seminaries. Does that qualify me as a historian?”

scale

What exactly is a historian and how does one “do history?” Do professional historians follow standardized processes to maintain quality control? Is there anything resembling a bar exam for membership into their associations? Are their governing boards dedicated to ensuring professional and historical integrity? Is the popular, “The Da Vinci Code perspective” accurate or is it a false trail?

In these posts, I’ll examine a couple of prominent claims—the pre-4th century Christian church did not recognize the four Gospels as authoritative and that non-canonical Gospels fill in historical gaps about Jesus, debunking traditional Christian history. By the end, we will separate the genuine from the impostors and have the real, historical Jesus to please stand up.