Not Your Mother’s Jesus

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Gentle Reader,

Marcus Borg. John Dominic Crossan. Karen Armstrong. Bart Ehrman.

Any of these names sound familiar? Perhaps not, but the topics they – and many others – address should be. Namely, each of these authors/teachers are members of or have been influenced by the Jesus Seminar (though Ehrman would disagree), a think-tank founded in 1985 by Robert Funk in order to do research into what is termed the “historical Jesus.” The purpose of this group, and many other individuals without, is to peel away the supposed layers of myth, dogma and legend which surround Jesus of Nazareth, bringing the world out of darkness of ignorance and into the light of scientific, critical intellectualism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against studying, searching, questioning, and I’m certainly not against higher learning. This post is not an anti-intellectual rant. Nor is it an attempt to de-value the study of the historical Jesus. I feel that seeking to understand the cultural and social context of Jesus and His disciples; seeking to know more about how they lived, what they dealt with, what the issues of the day were, how Jesus taught, how His audience would have understood Him, etc. is not a bad thing. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that this kind of research – the kind that I’m shelling out lots of cash to get a degree in – is of vital importance to Christians.

It’s called theology, and it is meant to be more than a set of abstract ideals.

But I digress.

The purpose of this post is, instead, to shed a little light on this quest for the historical Jesus. It’s a big deal, really. Can’t hardly turn on the television or walk into a bookstore without coming face to face with this or that claim, with this or that idea. People are talking about Jesus, and they’re talking about Him all the time. What are they saying, though?

To begin with, Funk founded the Jesus Seminar with the purpose of  “disabusing laymen of the mythological figure they have been taught to worship and bringing them face to face with the real Jesus of history.” ¹ There are two glaring implications within that sentence:  1) You are a deluded and abused person if you really believe that Jesus was the Messiah and 2) there are people smarter than you who can show you just how wrong that is.

I don’t know about you, but I am far less likely to want to listen to someone if they begin from a base of thinking that I’m deluded or stupid. (Ignorant, perhaps, because nobody really knows all there is to know about everything – except for God. Isn’t that what this all about, anyway?) I do have my own mind. I’m not so weak and fickle as to just go along with whatever the pastor, the Sunday school teacher, the author, the radio personality, etc. tells me is true.

Even if you do come into the “light,” however, you’ve done so by assenting to what the smart person with the degree and the book and the lecture circuit has told you. You’ve still basically got mush for brains; you’ve just transferred your allegiance from one place to another. Isn’t that strange? The elitist clergy vs. the elitist intellectuals. I have to confess that it makes me chuckle when I read the same sorts of insults flying between the two camps. The words may be different, but the argument is the same.

Moving on. In my experience, any scholar claiming Christian faith is automatically labeled as biased. I don’t argue with that. I am biased. I have a certain view of life. What I take issue with is that those who write about Jesus and who see Him just as some Jewish sage or nationalistic icon are lauded as being without bias. How on earth is this possible, when these same scholars write:

“The contemporary religious controversy turns on whether the world view reflected in the Bible can be carried forward into this scientific age and retained as an article of faith . . . . the Christ of creed and dogma . . . can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope.” ²

You may be wondering where the bias is in that. This paragraph reveals an anti-supernatural stance. Anything miraculous is automatically rejected before one even sits down to look at the evidence. I disagree with this stance, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with someone having it, as long as they admit to it. It’s a bias. It’s looking at the world a certain way, and of course the historical Jesus fixed upon by someone with such a bias is going to be a remarkably natural fellow, just exactly like you and I.

This leads to some interesting mental wrangling. If anything supernatural is rejected, then by definition anything supernatural is not historical. It is completely made-up. It has to be. Is this not, however, circular reasoning? Depending upon the conclusion to define the beginning? Honestly, this is something that we all do, as much as we’d like not to, especially when it comes to matters of faith (or lack thereof). Again, the important thing seems to be a willingness to admit it.

This bias leads to another consideration. Modern scholars – even popular authors – who wish to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of faith (if such a thing can be done) often assert the primacy of the apocryphal “gospels,” like those attributed to the Apostle Thomas and to Mary Magdalene. Ever heard of Dan Brown or “The Da Vinci Code?” Thomas, especially, is given quite a lot of attention, despite sound evidence of the work being written later than the Biblical Gospels, as derivative of them and an example of early Gnosticism. (In fact, the level to which Thomas is dependent upon the canonical Gospels is astounding. Examination of the “gospel” also shows it to be a document written by the hand of a religious syncretist, a phenomenon not uncommon in the ancient world, or even today).

The reasoning behind this elevation of Thomas is as follows:

1. The Gospel of Thomas is an early, primary source.

“How do you know?”

2. Because no apocalyptic sayings are found in the Gospel of Thomas.

“Why is that evidence of an early date?”

3. This is evidence of an early date because Jesus wasn’t into Apocalyptic {teaching}.

“How do you know he wasn’t?”

4. Because the Gospel of Thomas proves he wasn’t.

“Why believe what the Gospel of Thomas says?”

1. The Gospel of Thomas is an early, primary source. ³

Ah, the circular reasoning. Gotta love it.

Of course, the non-canonical “gospels” and other writings of Gnosticism, even the works of those attacking Christianity, have to be true; they have to be examples of authentic Christian faith in the early centuries.  Why? Well, the only other writings there are to work with are found in the Bible. And most of what they record is false. So there have to be other sources that are true.

This leads us once again to face the pretensions of these scholars and theologians. (How the latter term applies, I am not sure). Anyone in alignment with this fuzzy, proto-hippy, just chill out Jesus presents him or herself as being the authoritative voice in media around the world. The translation of the Gospels that they often refer to is known as the “Scholar’s Version,” implying that those who worked on the NIV, NASB and any number of other translations were not really scholars. There, there, you poor duped soul who believes that Jesus was the Messiah. We’ll show you the right way to think.

The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the view propounded by the Jesus Seminar and those who align with them is agnosticism or atheism that feels the need to “do” something with Jesus. (That’s not an attack on agnosticism or atheism, by the way. It is simple logic.) There is a recognition, an understanding, that Jesus was a special, unique figure, coupled with a total unwillingness to think that there’s really anyone higher than self. Jesus must be grappled with, but He cannot be the Messiah. The Messiah is a myth.

Thus, there is something other than unbiased scholarship going on here. There is a socio-cultural agenda. Everyone’s got one. These folks just aren’t owning up to it. Keep that in mind the next time you enter the bookstore or watch that television special.

 

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References:

1 http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/rediscover1.html, paragraph 2.

2 R. W. Funk, R. W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, “Introduction” to The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), p. 2.

3 http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/rediscover1.html, paragraph 27.

Divine

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Gentle Reader,

Loud are the voices of those who attempt to prove that the New Testament authors never thought of Jesus as anything more than a great human being. Louder still are those who claim that He never thought of Himself as God. Though it is true that there is nowhere recorded an incident of Jesus calling down lighting from Heaven in a display of, “check me out; I’m God!,” there is a great deal of attestation throughout the New Testament, and the Gospels specifically, to His Divine nature.

In seeking to make a case for the Divinity of Jesus strictly from the Scriptural record, it is, perhaps, difficult to know where to begin. In so many ways and in so many places, Jesus proved Himself to be no mere man. However, many of the Old Testament prophets performed great feats, 1 and even pagan priests were known to produce marvels. 2What makes Jesus different? Is it enough to begin from a place of miracle working?

When using the miracles of Jesus as a spring-board for proving His Divinity, it seems best to begin with one specific incident: the calming of the storm.

“One day Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and started out. As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger. The disciples went and woke Him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ When Jesus woke up, He rebuked the wind and the raging waves. The storm stopped and all was calm! Then He asked them, ‘Where is your faith?’ The disciples were terrified and amazed. ‘Who is this Man?’ they asked each other. ‘When He gives a command, even the wind and waves obey Him!’” 3

This passage, along with its parallels in Mark and Matthew, has been used in many instances to provide encouragement for the believer; the Lord is going to take care of things. While this is certainly true, it does not seem to be the point of the incident. Though it is good to remember that “the Sea of Galilee. . .is even today the scene of fierce storms. . .their peril was real,” 4 the linch-pin is found in Jesus’ question: where is your faith?

Indeed, where does faith even begin? “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.” 5 These opening words of Scripture may well serve as the first key in defining faith. There is a God and He created. This means that the forces of nature are never outside the bounds of His control; He does not sit idly by. Jesus’ calming of the storm and His questioning of the disciples force them to address the question of Who He is. “In the Old Testament, it is Yahweh alone who has the power to still the raging tempests of the sea (Jonah 1-2; Ps. 104:7; Ps. 107:23-32).” 6

“Who determined [the earth’s] dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?” 7 The answer? “I AM.” 8 The LORD, revealed from the dawn of time to the whirlwind of Job, from the burning bush to the visions of Ezekiel; the all-sufficient, self-existent One. He became “Immanuel. . .God with us,” 9 and demonstrated His mighty power over the storm. Only He has the ability, with one word, to calm the raging sea.

Perhaps a far more interesting way in which Jesus showed His Divine nature occurred at the time of His betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. In John 18:5, Jesus asks the assembled soldiers and officials just who it is that they are looking for.  “Jesus of Nazareth,” they respond. Now, to our ears, Jesus’ answer of “I am he” doesn’t sound like much. Young’s Literal version of this passage reveals, however, that the pronoun “he” was inserted into the text when it was being translated from Greek to English; it wouldn’t make sense for English-speaking readers to have Jesus say “I am.”

This is, apparently, exactly what He did say, however – and this has enormous implications. Verse 6 states that, after Jesus had responded to them, the whole of the crowd fell flat to the ground. Why is that? Jesus, in answering “I am,” dared to utter the ineffable, covenant Name of God, YHWH. The holiest of holy names in Jewish theology. Yet, instead of picking up stones to kill Him, as they did in various other places when He asserted too close a kinship with the Father (see John 10), they all end up knocked to the ground.

Dare this suggest that the Name carries some weight when spoken by its owner?

I submit to you that it does.

Today I am pondering on the Divine nature of Jesus for many reasons, but most of all because I’m frightened over something. I don’t yet wish to reveal the nature of this anxiety, because I don’t yet know if I truly have anything to be anxious about. (And, yes, I do know that the Bible teaches me not to worry. I’m not perfect). It is all very premature, but I still ponder just what it is that He might do for me. I firmly believe that the Lord delivers all of His own through trials; that it is simply the end result that we don’t always understand or expect.

Oh, my Jesus, you understand because You were a human being like me. You know what it is to be assaulted by temptation and fears. Yet, You are also the Holy God, the Self-Sufficient and Forever Existing One. My mind is occupied with You, but cannot fully understand You. My heart loves You, but not enough. Oh, my Jesus, You are an enigma and a transparency. How can this be?

Jesus was – and is – Divine. He is mighty and all-powerful, but He came to walk upon this earth as a nobody. He wasn’t even physically attractive (see Isaiah 53:1-2). Yet, He draws me. A man I have never seen, and He draws me like no other. Somehow I think His beauty must be incomparable.

Over and over I come back to this Jesus. I come back to this consideration of His nature. He is the wholeness and essence of truth. Of love. He is the only real assurance and hope of completion that any of us have. To my worried soul, He will bring peace. He can related and He can teach me how to respond properly. The God-Man.

The best way to describe Jesus?

Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! – Psalm 85:10 (NKJV)

 

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References:

1 See Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 17-19.

2 Ex. 7:10-12.

3 Lk. 8:22-25.

4 Luke 8:22 Commentary. Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation. (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2004), 1998.

5 Gen. 1:1.

6 Craig L. Blomberg. Jesus and the Gospels: an Introduction and Survey. (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009), 311.

7 Job 38:4a, 5

8 Mark 14:62a.

9 Matt. 1:23b.