Evidence for the Historical Jesus -Is the Jesus of History the Jesus of Faith?/Program 2

By: Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2000
Is it credible to think of Jesus as divine; that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.



Dr. John Ankerberg: The search for the historical Jesus is a hot topic in both popular and academic circles today and has drawn a lot of attention from national magazines, such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Further, the media has given an undue amount of attention to the outlandish statements of the Jesus Seminar, a self-selected liberal group representing a very small percentage of New Testament scholarship. Today we will address the questions surrounding the debate over the historical Jesus and show there are a significant number of historical facts about Jesus in secular and non-New Testament sources which prove that the Jesus of history is the same Jesus of the Christian faith.

My guest is world-class philosopher Dr. Gary Habermas, author of the book, The Historical Jesus. He received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University, and a second doctorate from Emmanuel College in Oxford, England. Dr. Habermas is chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University and has written more than 100 articles on the life of Jesus which have appeared in scholarly journals. Join us for this edition of The John Ankerberg Show and learn why Jesus is one of the most historically verified lives of ancient times.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Today liberal scholars in the Jesus Seminar are attacking traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus. They say it’s no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine; the resurrection of Jesus never happened; the New Testament books do not present a historical record of Jesus but only a witness to early Christian beliefs. But contrary to what the Jesus Seminar says, there is a massive amount of historical information inside and outside of the New Testament that confirms traditional Christian beliefs. My guest is philosopher Dr. Gary Habermas who himself was a skeptic. But in working on his Ph.D. at Michigan State, he came to realize that there is solid historical evidence about Jesus that he couldn’t ignore. Listen:
Habermas: In last week’s program we mentioned the creedal material that Paul presents in 1 Corinthians 15. This is probably the heart, the heart of contemporary discussions concerning the historical Paul, and of course, they have a great bearing on the historical Jesus.
Now, what we said was something like this. If we can imagine about a 25-year time line: beginning with the cross – 30ish AD, ending with the writing of 1 Corinthians – 55 to 57 AD, you’ve got about 25 years there. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, “I gave you this gospel when I came.” That’s about 51 AD, we’ve cut it down to 20 years. And then he outlines it in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and he said, “I delivered unto you that which I also received.” And the typical view is Paul ascertained this material in Jerusalem with Peter, with James, the brother of Jesus, from Galatians 1:18, about 35 AD. And, of course, if we’re only five years from the cross at Paul’s visit to Jerusalem, then somebody had it before he did.
And we can spend a couple moments chatting about this, but one important thing from last week’s question: “How do we know Paul is not the originator of Christianity?” Paul, at the most important point, 1 Corinthians 15:3, says, “This is of first importance.” He says, “The center of my proclamation.” And then he says, “It didn’t come from me.” “As of first importance, the center of my proclamation, I gave you what I received.” And if he received it in Jerusalem from Peter and James, not only is this not Paul’s material but it came from two of the important proclaimers in the early Church: Peter and James, the brother of Jesus.
Now, is what Paul says true? Does it line up with the facts? Well, when you take a look at 1 Corinthians 15:3, we find out that it does. And if there’s any conclusion that’s virtually unanimous in New Testament scholarship it’s this: that creedal statement, that tradition that Paul is passing on, the confession, if you will, that Paul is passing on, the catechism that Paul said he received from somebody else, it begins in verse 3 and it goes down some think as far as verse 5, some think as far as verse 7. But here’s the point. There are a number of indications that this is not Paul’s proclamation. There are a number of indications of exactly what he says. This is why we take Paul at face value: he got it from somebody else. How do you know? There are non-Pauline words there. Paul never again says, “On the third day.” This is his proclamation in that he is given it, but not his proclamation as far as “he made this up.” He’s passing on tradition. They are non-Pauline words. Peter is called Cephas. And Joachim Jeremias, the German New Testament scholar, argued that there’s perhaps an Aramaic original here which means it really predates Paul.
Ankerberg: Now, some scholars in the Jesus Seminar claim that the Apostle Paul is the one who invented the Jesus of faith. What they mean by this is that Paul made up the story that Jesus was God. Before that, it had never been said. But Dr. Habermas presents the historical facts that clearly show Paul did not invent Christianity or the Christ of the Christian faith. Listen:
Habermas: Now, Paul has said a couple of important things. He said, “I delivered what I received [and I like these words] as of first importance.” Paul said this is basically the most important thing I can preach to you. And of course, in the first two verses he said if you accept it, you’re saved; if not, you’re not. So we’re right here at the center.
But then he says, “It’s not mine.” So Paul is not the inventor. Now, is this what we see? Does the passage give evidence that Paul, while passing it on, really got it from somebody else? In other words, Paul is repeating it but it’s not really his material.
Now, moving to these words, we’ll see several indications that this does not come from Paul. For example, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried.” [vv. 3-4] Paul never again uses those words and he never again, whenever he defines the gospel, he always includes, as I said last week, the deity of Christ, the death, and the resurrection. He never again adds “burial.” So there are non-Pauline words here.
Another indication, Peter’s name is Cephas. Now, Paul does refer to Peter as Cephas, but Peter is better known as Peter. And Jeremias, the German New Testament scholar, thinks that this is one indication that there may be an Aramaic original.
Pinchas Lapide, the conservative Jewish New Testament scholar, has said there are other signs here that this is passing on tradition. For example, what’s called the “triple hoti clause.” English students will recognize that as: “and… and… and.” Paul doesn’t come up for air until he gets this long sentence out: “…died for our sins according to the scriptures and he was buried and he was raised and he appeared.” And Dr. Lapide tells us that is a means of Hebrew narration.
The words “delivered and received” are technical words for passing on tradition. Paul says it again in 1 Corinthians 11 concerning the Lord’s Supper: “delivered and received.” [1 Cor. 11:23] So, these are just three or four indications that this material is not Paul’s.
How do you recognize a creed or a tradition? Scholars have pointed out that this reads in two nice columns and it’s not English poetry that rhymes real nicely, but it reads like a first century Jewish audience where it’s regimented and you can see that when he appeared, Jesus appeared to an individual, Peter; then to a group, the Twelve; then to 500 at once. Then he appears to James, another individual. Then he appears to another group. [1 Cor. 15:5-7] There’s some order to this and it’s arranged like a catechism. And I made the point last week, perhaps 90 percent of Palestinians or the Jews in that area were not readers, they were not literate. And how do you give the heart of your message “of first importance” to people that don’t read? You say it in a form where they can memorize it and repeat it back. That is the nature of these creedal passages. And what we have here is Paul passing on the heart of his message, he said, “what I preached when I came.” And he said, “Folks, it’s not even mine.”
So I think we need to return to several things here: the importance of this early message; some data we have; we’ve got that time line going all the way back to Jesus in 30 AD. It’s not Paul’s. And so Paul is not the originator of the New Testament message.
1 Corinthians 15:11, once again, we referred to this last week, Paul says, “Whether then it was I or they, this is what we preach and this is what you believed.” The “we” there is the Apostles. He’s saying, “Here it from them; here it from me. We’re preaching the same message” concerning what? The gospel and the resurrection appearances in general. What Paul says is, “I didn’t make this up. I got it from somebody else. I delivered to you that which I also received.”
Now, look at verse 11: “Whether then it was I or they, this is what we preach and this is what you believed.” I think what Paul is saying here is, “Ask the Disciples. They’ll give you the same thing I’m giving you. Ask me, I’ll tell you.”
Now, what is this message? Just look at the previous verses. It’s the gospel, and in particular, he’s been talking about the appearances here. He’s saying, “I’ve talked to them. They’ve got the same message I have. They’ve talked to me. They commend me.” And go back and look at Galatians 2.
This is why we are at a very special point in history where we can almost reach out and see what Paul is saying and touch his messages linked to time-space history. It’s words on a page. He’s an accredited messenger.
We’ve got ourselves a time line, and folks, it’s not an Evangelical that came up with this time line. This is largely developed in critical, non-Evangelical theology. I think by using some of these methods we see that we’re on very firm grounds here regarding the very heart of our faith, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: How many times in school have you heard that the material in the New Testament books is nothing more than legend or myth? Well, again, that’s just a lie. Dr. Habermas gives three reasons why scholars believe they are dealing with solid historical evidence about Jesus. Listen:
Habermas: Now, I think we need to back up perhaps just a little bit and see what the significance of the 1 Corinthians 15 passage is. If Paul has given us material 35ish AD on a trip to Jerusalem – Galatians 1:18 where he visits with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus – we’ve got hands-on material from a very early period that emphasizes two very important facts. Number one, this material is early. And you don’t know how early until you’ve worked with other Greco-Roman passages. I mean, Livy reports things that are hundreds of years before his time. And Paul is talking about something that he participated in five years after the event, and other people had it before he did. So, I mean, we’re cutting down the gap here tremendously.
Secondly, we have an eyewitness account here. This is one way to go after eyewitnesses. We talked about the gospels, and that’s one possibility; but going after Paul is really taking what is given to us what the critics will give us. And Paul himself was an eyewitness. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Paul said, “I met the risen Jesus.”
But you’ve also got Peter. You’ve got James, the brother of Jesus. Both of them, by the way, have appearances in Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 15, one more little connection between Galatians 1 and 1 Corinthians 15. So we’re dealing with people here who were there. And I think Paul was interested in talking to Peter and seeing what he had to say.
Now, back to this question, does Paul make this up himself? And I said, no, because “this is of first importance” yet he got it from somebody else.
Another way to go after this whole picture and do the same thing is to look at the early creedal passages in Acts. If you would ask an Evangelical, “What does early preaching look like before we have a New Testament?” they would say, “Simple. Read the book of Acts.” If you ask some critics, they say, “Hey, read Acts 1-5.”
Now, the answer sounds the same but it’s for different reasons. Evangelicals say that because they trust the whole text. Critics find a number of these early confessional or traditional or creedal passages in Acts, and one reason they find them – another evidence that something is a creed – is they believe that the shorter, more compact, unevolved the theology is, the more authentic it is. And so in a certain scene there in Acts where Peter says, and you can almost picture him pointing at the Jewish leaders: “You killed him! God raised him from the dead!” [Acts 3:15]
Now, see, there’s a little tiny piece that, you get the gospel, right? Talking about the Lord Jesus. He is not just a man. “You killed him. God raised him.” You’ve got the gospel and Peter is in and out. And that’s something that’s easy to remember. How about, “We ought to obey God rather than man.” [Acts 5:29] Now, that’s not the gospel but that’s another one of those pithy little sayings. And we have those in Acts 1-5; Acts 10 where Peter is preaching to Cornelius. And all of those are Petrine: Acts 1-5; Acts 10.
And in Acts 13, Paul’s sermon, scholars also believe that there’s some creedal passages there. Go back and find any of these and let me tell you what you’re going to find. In every little encapsulation of the gospel you find the deity of Christ, his death, his resurrection. But guess what. Nobody would say Paul is the author.
So here you have an encapsulation of early preaching. Paul’s not even on the scene in Acts until chapter 9. You’ve got five chapters there with early material that are saying some of the same things. Paul’s not around. And we could still go to Acts and say, “This is of first importance, how that Jesus died, he was raised, and more than being Jesus, he is Lord and he is Christ.” Those are the two most popular titles.
So, going at it from the angle of Acts, you still see creeds, you still see this unevolved, short, concise, succinct theological statement that we call the gospel and Paul is not even there. So here’s another whole look at what we call the central doctrine, the center of the Christian core, and that is, the gospel, salvation.
Ankerberg: Now, every Christian student should listen carefully to how Dr. Habermas is arguing. As Christians, we all accept the New Testament books as authoritative and true. But your non-Christian professor and friends don’t. Well, then, what evidence should you use in talking to them? If your professor and friends are up on modern scholarship, they know that certain portions of Paul’s writings and portions of the four gospels are accepted, not as inspired, but as historically reliable information. Now, if they accept it, then let’s use that material because it reveals the historical facts that Jesus lived, claimed to be God, died on a cross, was buried in a tomb, and appeared to his Disciples later. It’s historical evidence which can’t be ignored. Now, if you ask, what are some of those passages that virtually all critical scholars accept that tell us these things? Dr. Habermas explains. Listen:
Habermas: Now, we’ve kind of gone the back door. We’ve started with the data that is the strongest: 1 Corinthians 15; Paul’s undisputed epistles. We’ve moved backwards. We’ve taken a little look at Peter and James through Paul’s eyes, Galatians 1. We’ve taken a little bit of a look at some Petrine gospel snippets in Acts. Now, having said this, why do you think the critical community says there’s virtually no value in the gospels? And I say “critical community,” I mean the far left. There’s a moderate community out there with probably the most influential scholars who wouldn’t dispute half as many things as we’re hearing from the far left, the ones who claim to be mainstream.
Now, when you go back to the gospels, do you hear the same message or don’t you? But before I get there, let me make a point again. 1 Corinthians predates the gospels; at least, 1 Corinthians 15 is the longest extended treatment of the resurrection before the four gospels. So really, the gospels are coming along later. But here we’ve got the horse in the right place before the cart. If you’ve already found it in Paul, and if you have it later in Acts, why are you objecting to the books when we’ve already got it from the earliest sources in Paul?
Now, when you go to Jesus, here’s what you’ll find in the gospels: the same proclamation. I mean, Paul is not dealing with amateurs here and he’s not dealing with people who never knew Jesus. He talked to Peter. He talked to James himself. He comes back to Jerusalem, by the way, in the next chapter and the same two men are there: Peter and James; and John is there, John the Apostle. So, Paul’s got connections.
When you get back to Jesus himself and the gospels, we read that Paul did not make up the deity of Christ. You see these titles are mentioned in the early shortened creeds in Acts, but you see them in the gospels, too. And I think our two best grounds for talking about the deity of Christ in the gospels are Jesus’ self-designations: Son of Man and Son of God. Now, Son of God is more usually recognized to be a title of deity. Son of Man, what a lot of people don’t realize is, this is not a title to be Mary’s son. Son of Man doesn’t mean “human being.” Son of Man, to make a lot of scholarship real short here, Jesus shows that he knows of the passage in Daniel 7:13-14 where Daniel looks up and he sees the Ancient of Days, one coming down who looks like a Son of Man.
And in Jesus’ time this idea had evolved in some writings of some Jewish books of that time that had nothing to do with Scripture. But his readers knew that Son of Man could be a real human being; it can be a prophet like the book of Ezekiel; or it can be the Son of Man who comes down from the Ancient of Days, this prophetic figure who is a preexistent divine figure who sets up God’s Kingdom. Which one does Jesus refer to himself as? Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-designation in the gospels and at least twice, one of them is in Mark 14, he virtually quotes Daniel 7:13-14 and says “that’s me.” At that point, when the Jewish priest says, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Notice what Jesus does. “Are you the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God?” And Jesus says, Ego eimi, “I am.” And then he changes a Son of God question to a Son of Man answer. He says, “I am the Christ, the Son of God, and you will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven in judgment.” [Mark 14:60-62]
And the priest makes a formal declaration of blasphemy. He rips his garment. He says, “The rest of you witnesses can go home. We’ve got’cha.” [v. 63]
Now, what set him off? In the passage there in Mark 14, Jesus says, Ego eimi, I am the Son of God.” Then he says, “And you will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.” Number one is it’s a virtual quote from Daniel 7:13-14. He claims to be the preexistence One who comes from the Ancient of Days to set up God’s Kingdom. And secondly, he uses this enigmatic phrase, “coming with the clouds.” That phrase is used dozens of times in Scriptures as a reference to deity. And Jesus said, “That’s me.” He’s already said, “Ego eimi” concerning the Son of Man, and the priest, it’s almost like he was waiting for this. He said, “Good. We’ve got him. The rest of you go home.”
So, if Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God and Jesus is claiming to be the Son of Man, why do we think Paul is inventing the deity of Christ later? We see it in the gospels. We see it in these little shortened gospel phrases in Acts. And we see it in 1 Corinthians 15. I think this is a solid case for the deity of Christ. And don’t forget, if Christ is raised from the dead, now you’ve got to ask the question, “Is God saying something?” And traditionally Christianity says, right in the New Testament, in fact, that God’s raising Jesus confirmed his message. And if Jesus claimed to be deity, nothing can be more blasphemous. So the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on Jesus and that’s argued that way in Acts 2 by Peter. It’s argued that way in Acts 17 by Paul. It’s argued that way in Romans 1 by Paul. The resurrection is the capstone. As Paul said, it truly is a matter of first importance.
Ankerberg: Now, if the Jesus Seminar scholars were listening to what Dr. Habermas was saying, how would they respond? He tells us. Listen:
Habermas: In this program we’ve been talking a little bit about that time-line of Paul that goes from 57 AD back to 30 and we’ve gotten that back to about five years. And I said that Paul was talking about the gospel with Peter and with James. And then we talked about some little gospel portions, some little traditions, in Acts. And I said you find some of the same ideas in the gospels. And I’ll tell you right now, I can tell you where critics are going to go here: “Habermas is slaughtering gospel studies. He thinks that because the gospels say Jesus said something that he truly said something. And what could be more mythical than the claim to be deity? Look at the Greeks. Look at the Romans.”
You know, the question we really need to leave for our next program is, how do we know Jesus really did say he was the Son of God and the Son of Man? Now, we’re getting close to the middle now and if we’ve got this with Jesus, certainly Paul is not the author of the teaching of the deity of Christ.

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