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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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.