April 22, 2008

A couple of weeks ago I explained the Biblical importance of Apologetics – ultimately to be obedient to two particular Scriptural mandates: first, to take our own thoughts captive, according to 2 Corinthians 10:5, in order to do battle with the things that cause us to doubt God, and secondly, to be prepared at all times, according to 1 Peter 3:15, to make a case for – to make a defense – to give an ‘apologetic’ for the faith we have in Christ. Combined, these two are one aspect of what it means to “Love the Lord your God with all your…mind” (Luke 10:27), which IS part of, and essential to, true worship.

The world is interested in Jesus. In fact, Jesus has probably never been more popular than He is now. People wear “Jesus is my Homeboy” t-shirts, movies about Jesus abound (many which not only verge on – but party in being – entirely sacrilegious), and nearly every major network has aired some ‘documentary’ on the historical Jesus over the past few years – some days I think PBS and the History Channel air a new one weekly, all of which interview almost soley liberal scholars who have long lost their faith, and work to cast doubt over not only the resurrection of Jesus, but even his mere existence. The next three blogs in the ‘Apologetics as Worship’ series will deal specifically with the questions I asked myself, and the answers I discovered, which both help me deal with doubts about the resurrection of Jesus, and help me “give a reason for the hope” that I have in Christ.

To begin with one of the most important pieces of evidence showing that Jesus was physically raised from the dead is the Gospels overall historical reliability. Reliable tradition holds that all of the writers of the canonical gospels were either apostles, or authorized to write their gospels by an apostle. An apostle was a person who not only knew Jesus first hand, but was personally sent out by Jesus to continue His work. That is just to say this: the writings of other early Christians seem to all recognize that the gospels we have in our New Testament were written by people close to Jesus, or by people who were writing down the stories of those close to Jesus.

The apostle Peter, who was likely behind the writing of Marks Gospel, stated, “We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” This has recently been challenged by some in contemporary scholarship, but these critiques are largely unfounded, based on little more than elaborate counter-intuitive theories – not hard evidence. If you’d like to read a few good critiques of these works, be sure to read Emory University professor Luke Timothy Johnson’s THE REAL JESUS – by no means a ‘conservative’, but who has a good grasp on history – or if you’d like to dive in head-first, devour N.T. Wright‘s entire catalogue.  Also, the Case for Christ by Lee Strobel is a great overview, and fairly easy to read.  I list those books because it can take so much time to look into every argument raised, but to show that there are good responses to most,  I’d like to look quickly to one generalization that I believe can easily be shown to be unlikely.

Example; Many of those who hold a revisionist view of Jesus, believe that the Gospels were all written under false names – in other words, some say that the names associated with the Gospel are not those of the actual authors, and that the real authors are unknown. Now, they will point out – and truly – that many Gnostic texts were written this way, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocryphon of James for instance (which, I might add, may be one of the many reasons that they were hardly even considered for inclusion in the New Testament when the church gathered to decide on that). It is entirely believable that over time some Jesus myths might develop and even take written form under a false name in order to honor a deceased apostle – this was actually practiced from the late 200s through the 400s. However, these Gospels, if they may be called ‘gospels’, were obviously sensationalist, and mythological in nature – an obvious attempt to fill in the parts of Jesus life that either did not concern the authors of the canonical gospels (those included in the Bible), or where information was simply not available to them. If you don’t believe me, take some time and read a few: the portrait of Jesus contained in those is more akin to a modern-day superhero we’d find in a comic book than like the person of Jesus we encounter in the Biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  In other cases, Gospels published under false names were developed by Gnostic sects (Greek cults who tried to hi-jack Jesus to fit into their own religious system) to lend authority to their interpretations of the Christ-story with the intentions of influencing the church at large with their so-called ‘secret truths’ about Jesus.  Often, the reason, then, for publishing later mythological books on the life of Jesus, and naming them after well-known apostles, was to give authority to what was written in these books.

Consider, then, how counter-authoritative it would be to name a hopefully influential work after those so unprestigious, as is the case with John-Mark and Luke, who are only remembered BECAUSE of the gospels named after them.  That’s just to say that, apart from John’s gospels, the canonical Gospels are not named after ‘famous apostles’ what-so-ever.  Why do that, if your trying to make your book look important?

Also, it also would seem that the titles were early additions to the text because, to quote Gregory Boyd, “If the titles…were added in the mid to late second century, we should expect a diversity of suggestions as to who authored them. Instead…we find absolutely no variants”

Last but not least, their authorship is unaniminously testified to by 2nd century writers and historians. For example, the historian, Eusebius, who preserved the writings of Papias, a disciple of the apostle John, testifies to the authorship of the gospels. What should be even more troubling to liberal scholars is recorded by the Bishop Irenaeus, a former student of Polycarp and also a disciple of John’s, who was martyred for his Christian faith in 156 A.D. Iranaeus reported that Polycarp, in the moments before his death, claimed to have been a Christian for 86 years. If this is true, it places Polycarp’s conversion at around 70 A.D., causing significant problems for the fore-mentioned scholars, since this not only places him in the general geographic location that the gospels were being written, and, according to them, at about the right time, but also as a student of one of the authors, the apostle John. Granting authority to Irenaeus testimony concerning the authorship of the Gospels, this essentially means that the gospels are not only sources of theology, which Jesus very character commands that anything written of him would be, but also reliable sources of history, even if one doesn’t hold to the doctrines of inspiration and/or inerrancy (i.e., even if one doesn’t believe that the Bible was written by God through man, and is therefore without error in the original manuscripts).

With the authority of eyewitnesses, each author wrote to a different audience from a different perspective. Matthew, a well-off Jew and former tax collector for the Romans (understood more accurately in modern terms as an official in charge of customs), probably well skilled in keeping records, is believed to have written his Gospel to the Jews. Because of this he accented Christ’s kingship and His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John Mark, Peter’s disciple, kept record of Peter’s preaching concerning Jesus while in Rome, and seems to have often accented Christ’s servant-hood. We can make a fairly good guess that Marks Gospel was written for the Romans, due to his regular use of Latin terminology, and his frequent explanations of theological concepts with which Jewish believers would be readily familiar. Luke, a well-studied physician, and disciple of Paul wrote his Gospel, including Acts, from Paul’s teachings, as well as from eyewitness’s testimonies, and older written records on the life of Christ (see Luke 1:1-3). Acting as both historian and theologian, Luke wrote as an apologeticist to the Gentiles for Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles. John, a close friend of Christ’s (”the one Jesus loved”) most likely wrote his Gospel in his later years while in Ephesus, and often directed his insightful writings toward exposing Jesus as God incarnate.

To make their writings relevant, each author focused on his individual audience’s needs, arranging material topically or thematically rather than strictly chronological (the Greek words sometimes translated as “now” and “then” can also be understood as “and”), in order that they might convey Jesus’ importance to people of various walks of life; Jew or gentile, male or female, slave or free. One or more of the Gospels speaks the language of one or all of these; from the common Greek, to the scripturally studied Jew; from the historian to the mystic, and even those in-between. Because of this, by combining the four Gospels, we can get an accurate and fairly complete portrait of who Jesus was and what he did.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon…

till then, love the Lord with all of your heart, MIND, soul, & strength…


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