Evidence for the Historical Jesus -Is the Jesus of History the Jesus of Faith?/Program 3

By: Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2000
Do you think Jesus ever considered Himself to be God? Does Jesus designates Himself as Son of man?



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. Do you think Jesus ever considered himself to be God? The handful of liberal scholars in the Jesus Seminar claim Jesus never said he was God. Further, they claim that later Christians deliberately excluded other books, other gospels, which pictured Jesus differently than the books which are now part of the New Testament canon. As you’ll hear in this program, the Jesus Seminar is wrong on both points.
Well, let’s begin with “Jesus claimed to be God.” Can Christians use the Jesus Seminar’s own critical methodology to examine the evidence, and still prove that Jesus did claim to be God? The answer is, “Yes.” Dr. Gary Habermas, a philosopher and historian, has written over 100 articles for scholarly journals on the life of Christ. As a Christian, there are many reasons that have led him to accept all of the content in the New Testament books as true and authoritative. But he knows non-Christian scholars do not believe the same way. So he starts with the snippets of material in the New Testament that they do accept and do think are historically reliable and uses that material to prove that Jesus did refer to himself as God.
Now, Dr. Habermas argues that no matter which source, which stratum New Testament critics turn to, in all five of them you’ll find that Jesus designates himself as Son of Man which, as you’ll see, is a reference to deity in Daniel 7:13-14. So listen as Dr. Habermas uses the critics’ own arguments to show Jesus did claim to be God.
Habermas: We ended the last program by mentioning the critical comeback that seems so obvious that, you know, we’ve got to face it right away. And that goes something like this: “Don’t take for granted that the red letter editions of the New Testament are exactly what Jesus said. How do you know Jesus said what Mark said he said, what Luke said he said, what John said he said, what Matthew said he said?”
Now, I made a couple of claims last program that Jesus claimed to be Son of Man and Son of God. Let’s take a look at a couple of these with critical methodology, a sort of a lowest common denominator, a text that’s nothing but a book of ancient literature. Okay, the New Testament is a book of ancient literature. Let’s think about this like the critics do and let’s address ourselves to the issue, “Did Jesus ever claim to be the Son of Man?”
Now, using a sort of Monday morning quarterbacking scenario, I mean, it goes something like this. When guys sit around on Monday morning, they remake yesterday’s football game and they make it in their own image. “You know, if you’d only done this or you’d only done that.” And really, that’s what a lot of critics are saying, after Bultmann, that the gospel writers are putting words into Jesus’ mouth. They are Monday morning quarterbacking Jesus’ teaching. How do we know the Son of Man is not just an added teaching?
Well, there’s two important criteria that are given by the critics themselves, both of which are fulfilled by the Son of Man sayings. These are criterion of authenticity. Now, the first one is multiple attestation: if you have a saying in more than one source, you have a pretty good idea that this is authentic. In fact, the Jesus Seminar themselves used that criteria in the beginning of the book, The Five Gospels.
Now, the teaching that Jesus was the Son of Man, it’s his favorite self-designation, according to the gospels, and it is found in all five what are often called the traditional gospel strata. And the traditional gospel strata are Mark; “M”–the material that Matthew has that nobody else has; “L”–the material that Luke has and no one else has; John; and this enigmatic “sayings document” that they call “Q.” Five strata. And guess what. Son of Man appears in all five. So, it’s pretty uniform that this is what Jesus called himself.
Now, the comeback is, “Well, that just means it’s a popular name. How do we know the Church didn’t make it up? And really, what Son of Man means is, it was the most popular title for Jesus when the gospels were written, see?” And they put it back in Jesus’ mouth in 30 AD.
“But really what it was, it was the most popular title for him when the gospels were written.” That’s the second, and this is called “the criterion of dissimilarity”: If Jesus did not get something from the Jews, and if Jesus’ teachings are not found in the early Church, probably they are authentic. This is the critical criterion of dissimilarity. And guess what? Son of Man cannot be laid at the feet of the Jews. They have a concept of “Son of Man,” but they would never apply it to Jesus.
But what about the Church? Isn’t this a great example of Monday morning quarterbacking? They read their favorite designation back into the mouth of Jesus, so it’s the favorite designation of Jesus when the gospels are written. Doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because Jesus is never called the Son of Man in any of the New Testament epistles. In fact, he’s not called Son of Man anywhere outside the gospels except one place, and there it’s talking about the heavenly exalted Son of Man. The earthly Son of Man, the earthly Jesus, is never called Son of Man anywhere else outside the gospels and only on the lips of Jesus, except in an instance where a man is simply reading that title, you know, “You say you’re the Son of Man” back to Jesus. So it’s a title distinctly on the lips of Jesus alone. In other words – let me unpack this just a little bit – it couldn’t be a Monday morning later title read into the words of Jesus because then it would be the Church’s favorite title, but it’s not found in the Church.
So the best conclusion is, first of all, it’s in all five layers, therefore it goes to Jesus. And secondly, it can’t be dated to the Jews; it can’t be dated to the Church. You know? Jesus must really have called himself the Son of Man, and I’ve got a problem because the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13-14 is a very special figure, as we’ve said before. He comes from the Ancient of Days. He’s a preexistent, divine figure setting up God’s Kingdom on Earth. And if Jesus claimed to be that, and you don’t want to believe in the deity of Christ, now you’re going up against a mountain of evidence.
Ankerberg: Now, did Jesus ever just come out and say that he was the Son of God? What is the evidence? Again, Dr. Habermas takes the critics’ own assumptions, points out evidence about Jesus from five different sources or layers of historical information, and shows that they all reveal Jesus said he was the Son of God. Listen:
Habermas: Now, the second title, and as I said, this one seems to be a more obvious title of deity, is Son of God. Did Jesus ever call himself the Son of God?
Let me reflect on a few passages here that are very helpful in Jesus referring to himself as the Son of God and that we can’t Monday morning quarterback it into the lips of the early Christian community.
Okay. First of all, in Matthew 11:27 and its parallel in Luke, here we have a passage that comes from what the critics call “Q,” early sayings document. Very, very early. They believe this predates the gospels by decades. And yet in Matthew 11:27 and its parallel Jesus says, “I’ve come to you to reveal the Father.” And this is the way he says it. It said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom he will reveal him.” Now, in that passage Jesus is claiming unique knowledge of God, and this is found in the very early “Q” strata, according to the way the critics arrange this, and that’s a tough text.
Another text is Mark 14:36, and here Jesus calls God “Abba.” A lot has been written about this, including by German New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias. And Jeremias claims that Abba is a very special title. You don’t really find this usage anywhere else in the Jewish community. It’s translated “Father” or maybe even the very personalized “Daddy.” But it’s in Aramaic and this may be a hint of Jesus’ exact language. Don’t forget, the New Testament was written in Greek. Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic. And if “Abba” is Aramaic, some people think we have a window here into the exact word of Jesus, but what’s that word mean? It’s an indication of God being his Father.
So you have a statement in “Q,” you have “Abba,” and maybe the strongest statement of all: Mark 13:32. Now, if you look this up you’re going to think, “Man! Is he nuts?” This isn’t a verse about the deity of Christ because Jesus is saying “the time of my coming.” He says, “That time, no man knows; the angels don’t know; not even the Son but the Father only.” The reason that’s a strong verse that Jesus is the Son of the Father or the Son of God is that he says he doesn’t know the time of his coming. My point is this. If the Church is making this statement up and putting the words back onto the lips of Jesus, why do they say something that, as one theologian says, is “theologically embarrassing”? If they want to say Jesus is the Son of God, just let them say right out: And Jesus answered and said, Behold, I’m the Son of God. But no! They’ve got to go and say, “I don’t know the time of my coming.”
That’s difficult. Because if he’s the Son of God, why doesn’t he know the time of his coming? Now, I think that can be explained traditionally because Jesus had a human nature/Jesus had a divine nature. But be that as it may, that sentence does not seem like it can be made up because it’s too embarrassing. Just say he claimed to be the Son of God. No. They had to say “the Son doesn’t know the time of his coming.” And that’s a rough sentence. So Jesus probably said it.
You’ve got a “Q” statement; you’ve got an “Abba” statement; you’ve got an “I don’t know the time of my coming” statement. And I think in all of those cases we have evidence that Jesus did claim to be the Son of God, as the gospels proclaim.
Ankerberg: Now, once again, we want to drive home the point that using the critical scholars’ own assumptions, you can show that Jesus claimed to be God. That doesn’t mean we agree with their assumptions; it just means that the historical evidence is so strong, non-Christians can come to believe in Christ by examining these facts. Dr. Habermas summarizes this point. Listen:
Habermas: Maybe we can backtrack here just a little bit and talk about theological definitions and in particular the method that I’m using here. My point is this. If you take the traditional view of Jesus Christ as laid out in the gospels, red letter edition; Acts; Epistles of Paul, obviously no one is going to dispute the fact that Jesus in those texts claims to be the Son of God, died on the cross for our sins, was raised from the dead.
But I’m taking a different approach, what I might call a minimal facts approach, what I might call “lowest common denominator” approach, and what I’m saying is, even if the critics are right about their methodology and can note, say, five layers of tradition in the traditional gospels, including the “Q” which is taken from the German for “source” and what it means is, “a sayings document.” It’s believed by critics that a sayings document was circulated in the early Church with nothing but sayings of Jesus – and they take this very seriously – and that’s a document that includes Matthew 11:27 on Jesus being the Son of God. We’ve talked about creeds. Evangelicals don’t think like that because they think, “Hey, look. This whole book is Scripture. Why do we have to look at pieces?” But the critic who sees the New Testament as a book of ancient literature and maybe nothing more, he sees it’s very important, and I think he’s right, that if we have some early statements that predate the books in which they appear, i.e., Paul’s saying “I gave you that which I was given,” Paul’s saying, “Observe the traditions of the elders,” if we have these little tiny confessions that predate the books in which they are written, the point is, they’re really early. And I’ve argued they’re apostolic. So if these kinds of critical, lowest common denominator ways of thinking – you have creeds, you have Q, you have Sources, and the gospels – my point is, even using their methods, we really come up with some of the strongest arguments for the deity, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus.
Ankerberg: Now, one of the most outrageous claims being made by the Jesus Seminar today is that the 27 books that now make up the canon of the New Testament were chosen for political reasons, not because these books were known and accepted by all Christians. The Jesus Seminar claims later Christians purposely suppressed other books and gospels about Jesus that depicted Jesus in a far different way than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One of the books they claim was purposely kept out of the canon was the Gospel of Thomas. But Dr. Habermas shows such claims are not true, that the Gospel of Thomas wasn’t even in existence before 150 AD and all the books in the New Testament were written before 90 AD. So the book of Thomas couldn’t be part of the canon. Listen:
Habermas: You know, John, this is one of questions that really kind of sets me off. Now, we have gospels; we have those little creedal passages in Acts; we have Paul. Critics are wanting to give us Paul almost carte blanche for those five, six, eight epistles that are considered genuine epistles. We’ve got to argue our way for those little creeds in Acts and for some of the gospels. But this is obviously the traditional canon. And critics want to get you on other grounds. Now, I’m not talking about the moderate critics, but let’s go over with the Jesus Seminar people. They want to tell you that we kept other books out of the canon by a political move. And the other sources are there, but we wanted a single Jesus so we orchestrated what was going to be in the canon and what wasn’t and why didn’t we include things like, the best case scenario is made for the Gospel of Thomas, which is a sayings document with a little over a hundred sayings of Jesus, something like “Q.” That’s what they’ll say.
Now, why do we keep something out – let’s make Thomas our test case here – why do we keep that out of the canon? A couple of things I want to say here.
Number one, no matter what you do with other books, you still have to deal with the evidence from a) Paul; b) Acts creeds; c) gospels. Whether there are other books or not, you have to deal with this. And after all, Paul is the early Apostle; Peter is the early Apostle; James, the brother of Jesus is the early Apostle; Thomas – this is called a sayings book but nobody believes it was written by the Apostle Thomas. So the traditional canon is there for a reason: it’s more authoritative. What does “more authoritative” mean? It’s written by the guys who were in the closest proximity to Jesus.
Now, how about this thing that “there was a political move and you want to keep the other books out, like Thomas?” Let me tell you something. There was no political move involved because there weren’t books at that time like Thomas that could be kicked out of the canon. They didn’t decide, “Mark, you’re in; Gospel of Thomas is out,” because the Gospel of Thomas didn’t even exist at that time.
The Jesus Seminar is a distinct minority when they want to say Thomas comes back to 50 [AD] And you know what? I can show you some of their documents where they first said Thomas is perhaps 90 AD, and then 50 AD. You know what it appears there? They need some other documents they can put in the 50s to say they are rivals.
Everybody else has Thomas in the second century. The reason nobody made a decision against Thomas in 50, 60, 80, 90 AD is because there was no Thomas, according to the vast majority of scholars.
So, there’s no orthodox canon where the people say, “This is it. We’re only going to take this stuff and we’ll throw everything else out.” There’s a main reason for this. Evangelicals would be laughed out of court if we said, “We’ve got a book. It’s about a hundred years late, second century. But we like it. So we’re going to bring it back for the canon.”
Do you know what they’d say? “Don’t you think a hundred years is just…150ish AD, is just a little too late to be an early source for Jesus?”
That’s what Thomas is. The reason it’s rejected in the canon is because it’s late. Not because they didn’t like the politics; they didn’t like the Jesus. We have a bunch of floating Jesuses around. You can’t show that. You can’t show there’s an authoritative Jesus that is not the One that’s represented by His Apostles – like Paul, Peter, James. It’s not there because it’s not physically existing – and I’m speaking about the Gospel of Thomas.
Ankerberg: Now, how would you show a non-Christian that the 27 books making up the New Testament are truthful books about Jesus, that they were accepted by eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, such as the Apostles, and known to be authoritative books by Christians who knew the Apostles? Well, there is solid, historical evidence that forms the foundation for our trust in these books. Listen:
Habermas: I’d like to say one other thing about the early canon. Two blocks of books we’ve been dealing with here: the gospels and Acts, Acts traditionally seen as volume 2 of Luke. That’s five books. The epistles of Paul, the critics will give you five, six, eight. Conservatives want thirteen epistles of Paul. But these two blocks of books were accepted at the end of the first century. Nobody waited until Nicea in 325 [AD]. How do I know? Take three early Christian writers: Clement, about 95 AD; Ignatius, about 107 AD; Polycarp, about 110 AD. Nine little Epistles. And they cite Paul, cite, quote, refer to Paul in his epistles just short of a hundred times. They cite 12 of his 13 epistles. The only one they leave out, Philemon. And you can imagine why. Only one chapter; not theological. But Paul is called inspired. He’s called an apostle. And his writings are quoted right there at about 100 AD by three authoritative writers. The gospels, they cite the gospels and Acts well over 100 times. These two bodies of literature, gospels plus Acts, Paul’s epistles – 12 out of 13 are cited – they are recognized as inspired right there at the close of the New Testament canon, about 100 AD.
Go back to the Thomas thesis. The reason others don’t come in? There are no competitors, there are no other gospels floating around to compete with the gospels and Acts. No other epistles are of the status of Paul in writing epistles like that and we have about 200 citations of them right at the close of the first century. Folks, this is very, very early material.
Let me add one other thing. Clement, 95 AD; Ignatius, 107; Polycarp, about 110 AD – they cite the gospels and they cite Paul over 200 times. But you know what? They didn’t refer to the Gospel of Thomas. Why? Because they’re trying to push him out of the canon? No. There’s no Thomas around. They don’t know it; they don’t cite it. That’s why we have much more evidence for the authoritative New Testament, gospels, Acts, and Paul’s epistles.

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