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How can Jesus be both God and man?

The Incarnation is one of the essential doctrines of Christianity. It is the belief that God became incarnate in the historical Jesus who was both truly God and truly Man. Any mixing or blurring of the two natures within Christ has traditionally resulted in heresy for going against the explicit teachings of scripture. This explains why such a vital Christian Doctrine has been under attack since the beginning. Christians are accused of believing in a logical contradiction. [1]

Some have argued that God possesses attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence and is described as timeless, spaceless and immaterial. God has these attributes necessarily and if He were to lose any of them, He would cease to be God. However, these properties are not typically observed in human beings. Thus the question is raised “How can Jesus be both truly God but truly Man at the same time”?[2]

Philosopher Thomas V. Morris, from the University of Notre Dame, summarizes the problem as follows:

“It is logically impossible for any being to exemplify at one and the same time both a property and its logical complement. Thus, recent critics have concluded, it is logically impossible for any one person to be both human and divine, to have all the attributes proper to deity and all those ingredients in human nature as well. The doctrine of the Incarnation on this view is an incoherent theological development of the early church which must be discarded by us in favour of some other way of conceptualizing the importance of Jesus for Christian faith. He could not possibly have been God Incarnate, a literally divine person in human nature.” [3]

This does look like a serious difficulty but Morris has produced one of the best responses to this sort of challenge in his book “The Logic of God incarnate”. Following his lead, Philosopher Ronald H. Nash has revisited the argument and laid it out for us in his book “Worldviews in Conflict”. Like Morris, Ronald presents three major distinctions that needs to be understood in order to work our way out of this apparent contradiction. They are as follows:

  1. The distinction between essential and nonessential properties
  2. The distinction between essential and common properties
  3. The distinction between being fully human and merely human. [4]

Essential and nonessential properties

The word ‘property’ simply refers to a feature or characteristic of something. Properties are of two types, essential and nonessential, which we can understand by looking at the example of a red ball. The colour of a ball is a nonessential property because even if we change the colour to yellow or blue, the object would still be a ball. But the property of ‘roundness’ is an essential property, because if we were to change that then the object would cease to be a ball. One cannot have a ball that isn’t round. Similarly there are certain properties which are essential to God such as necessary existence, omnipotence, omniscience, and so on. If there is a being that might lack any of these essential properties, then that being could not be God. When Christians affirm that Jesus is God, they also affirm that Jesus possesses all these essential properties of God. This is pretty obvious as well as easy to grasp, but the real problem arises when we try to identify the essential properties of human beings. Critics of incarnation go wrong when they believe that in order to be a human one has to be lacking in omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, etc. In other words, it is incorrect to conclude that the lack of these properties is essential to being human. This could be explained further, but we first need to understand the distinction between essential and common properties. [5]

Essential and common properties

A common property is any property that human beings possess but it is not necessarily an essential property. In order to explain this common property, Ronald refers to Morris’ example of ten fingers. He explains that since all human beings have ten fingers, this is common property. But it is obvious that having ten fingers is not an essential property to being a human because a man can lose one or all of the fingers and still be a human being. [6] Let’s take a look at how Morris explains the importance and relevance of these points with regards to the doctrine of Incarnation:

“It is certainly quite common for human beings to lack omnipotence, omniscience, necessary existence, and so on. I think any orthodox Christian will agree that, apart from Jesus, these are even universal features of human existence. Further, in the case of any of us who do exemplify the logical complements of these distinctively divine attributes, it may well be most reasonable to hold that they are in our case essential attributes. I, for example, could not possibly become omnipotent. As a creature, I am essentially limited in power. But why think this is true on account of human nature? Why think that any attributes incompatible with deity are elements of human nature, properties without which one could not be truly or fully human?”[7]

In other words, even though you and I lack those essential properties of a divine being, where is the argument that proves these limitations are essential for being human? Morris argues that these properties are simply common human properties and not essential ones. [8]

Being Fully Human and Being Merely Human

An individual is ‘fully human’ if he has all the essential human properties, while an individual is merely human if he has all the properties of a human being but has some additional limitations like for example lacking omnipotence, lacking omniscience and so on. That being said, what Christians believe is that “Jesus was fully human without being merely human.” What it means is that, Jesus possessed all the properties essential to being a deity as well as all the properties to being a human being. Morris argues that critics are confused when they try to conclude that the lack of divine properties is essential to human nature.

Conclusion

The three major distinctions play a vital role in defeating the alleged contradiction that exists within the Doctrine of Incarnation and thus helps us in concluding that the orthodox Christology is not self-contradictory. 

 

References

[1] Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse., pp. 99-100

[2] Ibid., p.100

[3] Morris, Thomas V. 1988. “Understanding God incarnate.” Accessed March 17, 2018. http://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1431&context=asburyjournal

[4] Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse., p. 101

[5] Ibid., pp. 102-103

[6] Ibid., pp. 103-104

[7] Morris, Thomas V. 1988. “Understanding God incarnate.” Accessed March 18, 2018. http://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1431&context=asburyjournal

[8] Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse., p. 104

Jesus the Game Changer - digital download

Jesus the Game Changer – National Launch Tour

Jesus Christ has made an incredible mark on human history and he continues to do so through his followers. Yet many people do not realise that the values Western democracies are built on originate in the life and teaching of Jesus. The equality of all, servant leadership, care for the poor and marginalised, to name just a few.

We are excited to announce the launch tour for the new DVD resource Jesus the Game Changer where host Karl Faase explores how Jesus shaped these foundations of Western culture, which we take for granted today. Check out the trailer for this series here.

REMINDER: We are half way through this series on Shine TV – you can catch episodes at 8pm on Tuesday nights for the next five weeks – last episode on 15th November 2016  (you can live-stream these here).

REMINDER: You can also purchase the full ten episodes for $59.95 + freight at our online store here.

During this tour we have a number of free public presentations – along with some more in-depth daytime seminars.  The seminars cover different material to the public presentations – so make it along to both if you can!

Everyone is welcome. The events are also friendly to seekers who want to know more about the teachings of Jesus – so invite a friend!

Karl Faase

Who is Karl Faase?
With over 20 years of involvement in media, Karl is one of Australia’s most experienced Christian radio and television presenters, with his programs broadcast and distributed in the USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand. He was a Baptist pastor for 20 years in Sydney and is now the CEO of Olive Tree Media – the organisation through which he produces programmes of excellence for Christian media and the wider Church, including Jesus the Game Changer and his last DVD series Towards Belief. You can see Karl’s full bio here.

Public Meetings are free – but an offering will be taken to help cover costs.
Seminars are $20 at the door. No registration needed. Tea/coffee provided either before or during the event.

AUCKLAND

Sunday 6th November

10:00am-11:30am – Church Service
Lincoln Rd Bible Chapel, 66 Lincoln Rd, Henderson
2.00pm-4.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Greenlane Christian Centre Café, 17 Marewa Rd, Greenlane
6.30pm-8:00pm – Church Service (followed by casual Q&A in the café)
Greenlane Christian Centre, 17 Marewa Rd, Greenlane

TAURANGA

Monday 7th November

7.30pm-9.00pm – Public Meeting
Changepoint Church, 131 Poike Rd, Tauranga

Tuesday 8th November

*9.00am-10.30am – Seminar ($20 at door)
Bethlehem Baptist, 90 Bethlehem Rd, Tauranga

MATAMATA

Tuesday 8th November

*12.30pm-2.00pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Matamata Bible Church, 11 Meura St, Matamata

HAMILTON

Tuesday 8th November

*3.30pm-5.00pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Hamilton Central Baptist, 33 Charlemont St, Hamilton

TAUPO

Wednesday 9th November

*11.00am-12.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Inspire Church, 65 Lakewood Drive, Taupo

ROTORUA

Wednesday 9th November

*3.00pm-4.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Harvest Church, 324 Malfroy Road, Rotorua
7.30pm-9.00pm – Public Meeting
Harvest Church, 324 Malfroy Road, Rotorua

CHRISTCHURCH

Thursday 10th November

1.00pm-2.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Hope Presbyterian, 24 Amyes St, Christchurch

WELLINGTON

Thursday 10th November

7.30pm-9:00pm – Public Meeting
Porirua Elim Church, 11 Heriott Dr, Porirua

Friday 11th November

9.00am-11.00am – Seminar ($20 at door)
Porirua Elim Church, 11 Heriott Dr, Porirua

PALMERSTON NORTH

Sunday 13th November

10.00am – Church Service
Lifechurch, 590 Featherston St, Palmerston North
2.30pm-4.00pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Lifechurch, 590 Featherston St, Palmerston North
7.00pm – Church Service
St Albans Presbyterian, 339 Albert St, Palmerston North

 

*Tea and coffee will be available 30 mins prior at these seminars.  Other seminars will have a break half-way through.

This tour has been arranged in partnership with Willow Creek Association who are co-hosting these events with us.
Five reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead

Five Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead Pt. 5: The Explosion of Christianity – Adam4d.com

Welcome back, If you missed part 1, part 2, part 3 and or part 4 check them out.

Today we are looking at a 4th piece of evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as expressed by Adam Ford from adam4d.com, the spread of Christianity after the crucifixion.

If you like this comic, please check out adam4d.com, and even consider supporting Adam in what he is doing.

Tomorrow, we will conclude with why all of this matters.

Enjoy!

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Five reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead

Five Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead Pt. 4: The Boldness of the Disciples – Adam4d.com

Welcome back, If you missed part 1, part 2 and or part 3 please check them out.

Today we are looking at a 4th piece of evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as expressed by Adam Ford from adam4d.com, the boldness of the disciples who proclaimed the gospel message.

If you like this comic, please check out adam4d.com, and even consider supporting Adam in what he is doing.

Enjoy!

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How do we reconcile the “violent” Old Testament God with Jesus?

The slaughter of the Canaanites is one of the most troubling passages in the Old Testament. Not only has it been used to justify colonialism and ethnic violence, it also seems to reveal a picture of God that appears at odds with Jesus’ portrayal of God in the New Testament.

How should we try to understand this apparent contradiction?

Branson Parler, writing for the Missioalliance blog, offers some good thoughts about this question and particularly the attempt to downplay or dismiss the accuracy of the Old Tesament portrait.

“One popular answer is that the conquest narratives record Israel’s projection onto God rather than God’s actual instructions to Israel. God is not really judging the inhabitants of Canaan with Israel as his instrument, its proponents say, Israel is simply rationalizing its own selfish drive to possess the land. In order to transcend Israel’s faulty and murderous self-justification, they then encourage us to read later texts, such as the Gospels, over against these problematic earlier texts. The more this interpretation prevails the more popular it has become to speak of “God’s violence” rather than “God’s justice” or “God’s judgment.” After all, if unseemly OT texts simply amount to human projections onto God, then we create “God” in our violent image rather than witness to a God who is just in all his ways…

Yet there is a fatal flaw with this interpretive approach. In the biblical narrative, the logic of conquest, exile, and cross are actually tied together. The way we approach one determines how we approach all three.

….If you think the conquest narratives are problematic, the exile narratives are more so. In terms of sheer volume, the Bible talks far more about God’s judgment on disobedient Israel through Assyria and Babylon than it does about God’s judgment on the Canaanites. In terms of judgment and terror, the narrative in Joshua is quite tame in comparison to the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28, which promise Israel that the destruction of one’s family, land, and property will drive people mad, that the horror experienced by Israel will become a “byword among the nations,” and that parents will cannibalize their own children. As Jeremiah laments, “With their own hands, compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed” (Lamentations 4:10). If the idea that “God judges sinful people through a chosen instrument” is a projection, then no one is projecting more than the biblical prophets who warn God’s covenant people repeatedly to turn or suffer the consequences.”

Parler points out that explaining away the conquest passages also has implications for how we understand Jesus and his mission:

“…[I]f accounts of God’s judgment are mere projections, of course, then Jesus’s beliefs about the exile and his own role in bringing about the end of exile were wrong. … if Jesus’s account of Israel’s covenant and his role in relation to it was wrong, then Jesus doesn’t reveal Israel’s God. Far from it, he reveals his own confusion and ignorance by projecting onto God the idea that he had to die for the sins of his people (a confusion then perpetuated throughout the rest of the New Testament). And of course if Jesus was confused about what the Father wanted, then he was neither the Messiah nor the eternal Son. In other words, if you pay close attention to the biblical narrative, you cannot consistently interpret Joshua as a projection onto God and Jesus as the full revelation of God.”

But what about using these passages to justify violence today?

“Many people think that if one affirms that God commanded Israel to do what they did in Joshua, then it implies God’s stamp of approval on any and all actions of war (or at least just war). But this is not at all the case. I affirm God’s providential use of Assyria, Babylon, and Rome to judge, but that does not mean that the actions of the rulers or armies of those nations were morally good. For example, after Isaiah notes that God is going to use Assyria to judge, his application of the message is not “Go join the Assyrian army”; for they too will be judged in turn for their wickedness (Isa. 10). Likewise, when Jesus notes that Jerusalem will be judged, he doesn’t encourage his followers to defect to the Roman armies…

The point of all this is recognizing God’s proper place and authority to judge. God has the right to do this; we do not.”

He concludes,

“[H]ere’s the rub: the God created by those who insist on talking about divine “violence” is more a projection than the God attested to by Joshua, Jeremiah, and Jesus. A violent God rather than a just God is the product of the contemporary failure to read Scripture closely, faithfully, and directionally.”

Read the whole thing here. It’s a great post.

For more books on the topic of the Old Testament wars, check out Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan, God Behaving Badly by David Lamb, The God I Don’t Understand by Chris Wright, and Holy War in the Bible edited by Heath A Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan.

Part 3: In Defense of the Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the first reply in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?”

Preliminaries

I would first like to thank Malcolm Trevena for his opening statement responding to my defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. I am grateful for the importance he places on the truth of the matter and that he chose to attack my arguments without attacking me. I hope to replicate this gentlemanly manner.

Introduction

To begin I would like to look back and recall my opening statement.

In support of my first contention that there are at least four facts which any adequate historical hypothesis must explain, I offered four facts, namely, the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and that the disciples radically came to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and also outlined the reasons why each of those facts are commended to us by the majority of experts in the relevant fields.

In support of my second contention, the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead  is the best explanation of the aforementioned facts, I assessed that hypothesis using the conventional criteria historians use for determining the best explanation.

I concluded that Trevena, in order to establish that the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, in the absence of some overwhelming proof of atheism, must propose an alternative naturalistic explanation of those facts which exceeds the resurrection hypothesis in fulfilling those criteria.

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New Book: Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright

Whatever your views on his theology, it’s hard to deny the fact that N.T. Wright presents theology in a gripping and fascinating way. Whether he is addressing the nature of heaven in Surprised by Hope or the attractiveness of the Christian life in Simply Christian, Wright finds it impossible to write a boring sentence. One of the most influential and prolific New Testament scholars of our day, the Anglican theologian is gifted at distilling oceans of Biblical scholarship into vivid, clear, and understandable prose. His latest book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, brings all that technical expertise to bear in presenting a compelling new picture of who Jesus was and how we should relate to him today.

Wright maintains that many Christians have minimized and misunderstood Jesus’ story. As a result, the kingdom of God has been reduced to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. While piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, Wright argues these things are not nearly as important as Jesus himself. In Simply Jesus, Wright takes us back to the Gospels and to Jesus’s public career, his accomplishments, his death, resurrection and ascension. In investigating these events and their meaning, Wright intends to reveal a Jesus who is larger, more disturbing, and more urgent than we ever imagined.

The goal of Simply Jesus is to challenge the faith of Christians and invite them to ponder afresh what “following Jesus” might entail. Wright maintains that the identity of Jesus is hugely important in every area – not only our personal lives and our religion, but also in political life and human endeavors such as worldview, culture, justice, beauty, ecology, friendship, scholarship, and sex. He writes:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center” text_align=”left”]”Christian worship declares that Jesus is Lord and that therefore, by strong implication, nobody else is. What’s more, it doesn’t just declare it as something to be believed, like the fact that the sun is hot or the sea wet. It commits the worshipper to allegiance, to following this Jesus, to being shaped and directed by him. Worshipping the God we see in Jesus orients our whole being, our imagination, our will, our hopes, and our fears away from the world where Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite (violence, money, and sex) make absolute demands and punish anyone who resists. It orients us instead to a world in which love is stronger than death, the poor are promised the kingdom, and chastity (whether married or single) reflects the holiness and faithfulness of God himself. Acclaiming Jesus as Lord plants a flag that supersedes the flags of the nations, however so “free” or “democratic” they may be. It challenges both the tyrants who think they are, in effect, divine and the “secular democracies” that have effectively become, if not divine, at least ecclesial: that is, communities that are trying to do and be what the church was supposed to do and be, but without recourse to the one who sustains the church’s life. Worship creates—or should create, if it is allowed to be truly itself—a community that marches to a different beat, that keeps in step with a different Lord.”[/pk_box]

The church has a desperate need for Bible scholars who are able to retell the story of Jesus in a way that rouses hearts and quickens consciences where they have become dull to the good news. No doubt there will be some quibbles with Wright’s portrait and we may not agree with how he frames every theological idea, but that said, Simply Jesus looks to be a good book to help readers rediscover Jesus and a life in which “following Jesus” makes sense.

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters is available from Amazon and Christianbook.com.

Does the Bible Endorse Slavery?

Paul Copan continues his series on slavery and the Bible in the latest issue of Enrichment (see his earlier discussions of Old Testament slavery in the journal here and here). In this article, he examines slavery in the context of the New Testament and addresses the question of whether Jesus or the New Testament writers condoned slavery.

Video from the Saddleback Apologetics Weekend

Last weekend, the Saddleback Church in Southern California hosted its second annual apologetics weekend. Hosted by pastor Rick Warren, the conference presented several scholars and pastors to discuss the life and person of Jesus Christ. At this time of the year when life seems to get more crowded with activity, these talks offer a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the meaning of Christmas and the God who took on flesh, the incarnate Christ.

If you’re having trouble accessing the links below, you can also get the lectures on iTunes.

Jesus Before He Was Born
Chris Wright (Langham Partnership’s International Director and author of The Mission of God)
Audio| Video

The Radical Message of Jesus
Scott McKnight (Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University)
Audio | Video


The Shocking Life of Jesus

Peter Kreeft (professor of philosophy at Boston College)
Audio | Video

Jesus’ Miraculous Death and Resurrection
Greg Koukl (adjunct professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University and president of Stand to Reason)
Audio | Video

The Jesus Left Behind – The Body of Christ
Philip Yancey (editor-at-large for Christianity Today and popular Christian author)
Audio | Video

HT: Brian Auten

The Jesus of History: The 2nd & 3rd Quest (part 3)

The Period of No Quest

The first half of the twentieth century saw the rise of the dialectical and existential schools of theology represented by Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann. For these men the quest for the historical Jesus was well over. Barth ignored the New Testament criticism of Jesus, for what mattered to him was the Christ of Faith proclaimed by the Church. The historical Jesus was, besides being inaccessible to investigation, theologically irrelevant and distracting. Bultmann’s project of demythologization was characteristic of those who preceded him, but this time with surprisingly transparent naturalistic presuppositions.[1] For this project he developed the “form critical” method, to uncover the oral traditions that lay behind the earliest scriptural writing. To him the hope was to show that the gospel’s picture of Jesus was largely an invention of the early church. Of the historical Jesus he wrote “In my opinion, of the life of and personality of Jesus we can now know as good as nothing.”[2] It did not matter to him though, for what was important was the truth expressed by the Christ-myth in the kerygma.[3]

The Second Quest

A new quest began with the disciples of Bultmann who were not content with the mere fact of Jesus’ existence as a ground for the Christian faith. The launch of the quest was a lecture delivered in 1953 by Ernst Käsemann (1906-1998) to his fellow students in Göttingen. There he selected sayings of Jesus he believed to be assuredly authentic and asked the question what impression do we get of Jesus’ proclamation and character. Redaction-criticism was born: its aim to discover the theological and literary tendencies of the authors of scripture. Others soon joined him in the quest.[4]

James Robinson (1924-) distinguished between the Jesus of history and the historical Jesus. The first was the actual person who lived, and the second was the person who could be proved. The new quest, he says, was only concerned with the historical Jesus. Because of the presence of theology in the gospels, Robinson believed the burden of proof belonged to the one who would ascribe some attribute to Jesus, and not the one who denied it. Thus, if some feature of the historical Jesus could not be proved to be authentic, we should regard it as inauthentic. This presumption has been sharply criticized[5] but lies behind much of New Testament scholarship today. More will latter be said on Robinson’s presumption and its effect on the criteria for authenticity.

John Meier, professor of New Testament at the University of Notre Dame, and author of the massive and ongoing series A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, makes a distinction similar to Robinson. To him the Jesus of history or the historical Jesus is a modern abstraction and construct of what can be recovered and examined using ‘the scientific tools of modern historical research.’[6] He uses those terms interchangeably, and contrasts them with what he calls the real Jesus, which is “a reasonably complete record of [his] public words and deeds.”[7] On final analysis however, this is just another modern abstraction and construct: not a living, breathing person that is the subject of historical research, but a list of propositions. Craig notes a “third abstraction in the wings” [8] which Meier calls the total reality of Jesus. This is “everything he . . . ever thought, felt, experienced, did and said.”[9] He concludes that assigning Jesus’ proper name to lists of propositions only leads to confusion, and muses that “one cannot help but wonder what has happened to the actual person Jesus of Nazareth.”[10]

The Third Quest

The energy with which the second quest was taken up had deflated by the seventies. But not for long. Jesus scholarship in the eighties and nineties received a burst of new life. A convergence of factors is thought to be responsible for the growing confidence that the historical Jesus can be known. In part this is due to the application of new methodologies from other disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and linguistics. It is also due in part to the inclusion of non-canonical literature as evidence,[11] a relaxing of the prohibition to mix theology and history,[12] and scholarly renderings of historical portraits of Jesus being made accessible to the general public. Beyond these generalizations, Martin notes, it is difficult to identify which schools of thought individual scholars belong, so diverse and popular is historical Jesus scholarship.[13]

Distinctive features of the Third Quest have been to place Jesus in a Jewish context, and the jettisoning of the gospels as mythology: an idea that waxed so large from Strauss through to Bultmann.[14] Since the release of Richard A. Burridge’s book What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Greco- Roman Biography in 1992, somewhat of a consensus among scholars has emerged, such that the gospel’s literary genre is thought to be that of ancient biography. Many Jewish scholars have made their mark by interpreting Jesus as fitting within the first century Israeli cultural-milieu,[15] particularly as a teacher of ethics, an eschatological prophet, miracle worker and exorcist.[16]

Today, the quest for the Jesus of history is alive and well; a marked contrast to the miserable state of historical Jesus research at the opening of the twentieth century. From here we will leave our survey of the historical background and go on to examine some of the philosophical dilemmas that have surrounded this search.


[1] In his essay entitles “Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?” he argued that while scholars should not presuppose their results, there is nevertheless “one presupposition that cannot be dismissed” – that “history is a unity in the sense of a closed continuum of effects.” Bultmann explained that, “this closed-ness means that the continuum of historical happenings cannot be rent by the interference of supernatural, transcendent powers and that therefore there is no ‘miracle’ in this sense of the word.” R. Bultmann, “Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?” Existence and Faith: Short Writings of Rudolph Bultmann, ed. and trans. S. M. M. Ogden (New York: World, 1966), pp. 289-291. Cited in The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 42.

[2] Rudolph Bultmann, Jesus (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1951), p. 11.

[3] Kerygma: The proclamation on the church.

[4] G. Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960), J. Jeremias, Jesus’ Promise to the Nation (1958), The Proclaimation of Jesus (1971), E. Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (1979).

[5] See Morna Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” Theology 75 (1972): 570-81.

[6] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 25.

[7] Ibid., 1:22.

[8] Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 291.

[9] A Marginal Jew: vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, p. 21.

[10] Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 292.

[11] Such as the Gospel of Thomas

[12] Martin describes it as a “a reluctant admission that theology and history are not mutually exclusive categories” The Elusive Messiah, p. 45

[13] The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 45, 209.

[14] Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 294.

[15] Spearheaded by C. G. Montefiore (The Synoptic Gospels, 1909), Israel Abrams (Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, 1917, 1929) Joseph Klausner (Jesus of Nazereth: His life Times, and Teaching, 1922), and contemporary scholars such as Samuel Sandmel (We Jews and Jesus, 1965), Schalom Ben-Chorin (Bruder Jesus: Der Nazarener in Jüdischer Sicht, 1967), David Flusser (Jesus, 1969, Pinchas Lapide (Der Rabbi von Nazereth, 1974), Geza Vermes (Jesus the Jew, 1973; The Religion of Jesus the Jew, 1993). Non-jewish scholars with similar projects are E. P. Sanders (Jews and Judaism, 1985), Birger Gerhardsson (Memory and Manuscript, 1961) and Rainer Riesner (Jesus als Lehrer, 1981).

[16] Leaving aside the question of the miracles supernatural character, it is now generally regarded as acceptable for the historical portrait of Jesus to include miracle working and exorcisms. See Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 295.

The Jesus of History: An Introduction (Part 1)

An Introduction

The scandal of Christianity is that it is a religion grounded in historical events, which if they can be demonstrated to be false, would empty it of meaning and all power. Chief among those historical events is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The apostle Paul declares, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”[1] Michael Green was right when he wrote, “Once disprove the historicity of Jesus Christ, and Christianity will collapse like a pack of cards.”[2] If Christians are to maintain that faith is reasonable, it will be crucial to establish that not only the events of history in general can be known, but also specific events of the past are true.

Most people when they come to Christ do not do historical research or consider things like the problem of historical knowledge. Rather, they come to know the great truths of the gospel, such as Christ’s atoning life and death, and his resurrection from the dead on the basis of their experience of the Spirit of God. This experience I take as veridical, and a fully legitimate grounding of knowledge.[3] So although the Christian is warranted in believing what happened 2000 years ago without studying history or philosophy, the following entries in this series will concern themselves with exactly that. I will be summarizing the search for the historical Jesus, then assess some of the search’s surrounding dilemmas. It will not be a thorough treatment. Whole books have been written, and still could be, on any one of these issues. I seek only to summarize, explain and briefly offer what refutation can be given. Included will be an assessment of Historical Relativism, the Problem of Miracles, imposing Methodological Naturalism in the study of history, and three methods for establishing historical descriptions.

I begin this journey with a goal in mind: to establish the description of the person of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospel narratives as truly historical. The pen of John Stuart Mill eloquently expresses the same conviction.

“It is of no use to say that Christ as exhibited in the gospels is not historical . . . Who among his disciples or among their proselytes was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the gospels? Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee, still less the early Christian writers.”[4]


[1] 1 Cor 15:17 (NASB)

[2] Michael Green, Runaway World (London: Inter-Varsity, 1968), p. 2.

[3] Philosophers call these beliefs properly basic. They need not have arguments to support them, for they are bedrock beliefs that are wholly sensible in and of themselves, from which we argue to other things.

[4] John Stuart Mill, Essays on Nature, the Utility of Religion and Theism (London: Longmans, 1874).