Refuting the New Controversial Theories About Jesus – Program 3

By: Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2006
Did Jesus think of himself as God? Or “like” God? Did he ever say anything that would help us know how he thought of himself?

Did Jesus Ever Claim to be God?


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, what about five controversial new books about Jesus that have been featured in specials on NBC, ABC, and the National Geographic Channel?

You know about The Da Vinci Code movie and book. We will include that in our discussion. But what about The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent, and The Gospel of Judas? Is there new information about Judas that we didn’t know? Is Michael Baigent correct in asserting Jesus didn’t die on the cross; that it was the greatest cover up in history? What evidence does he present?

Finally, what about the claims made in The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor and Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman?

To answer these questions and expose the historical errors in these books my guests are: Dr. Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia. Dr. Evans was selected as a member of the National Geographic dream team of scholars and asked to examine the Gospel of Judas. He appeared in the two-hour National Geographic special, and also appeared in the NBC special regarding The Jesus Papers. My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He is acknowledged as one of the leading scholars in the world on the resurrection. We invite you to join us today to find out the truth about these new controversial books.


Ankerberg: Alright, we’re talking about the Gospel of Judas, we’re talking about The Da Vinci Code, we’re talking about The Jesus Dynasty, we’re talking about Misquoting Jesus, and a few other things here. These are books that have been made into specials on television that you’ve probably seen. They kind of coincide with the coming out of The Da Vinci Code.
And there’s one theme, guys, that all of these books agree on, and that is, if you look at the New Testament, Jesus never claimed He was deity, He wasn’t God. The Da Vinci Code says that was invented later on. And the others just seem to say that He didn’t have that kind of a vision for Himself, that He was this or that. And I would like to talk about the evidence of where you see that Jesus did claim that He was God. Craig, start us off.
Evans: The evidence, I think, is seen very clearly in Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Son of Man, understood in terms of Daniel 7, and combined with Psalm 110. He says that as Son of Man, who received from God authority and power and the kingdom, He will sit at God’s right hand. And the reason I know that that is a claim to His own divinity is because that very passage is talked about by rabbis later, and they consider it blasphemous for anyone who appears to be a human to say that he will sit at God’s right hand. That is outrageous, yet Jesus does.
Ankerberg: Alright, now you’re talking right down The Jesus Dynasty and this is mentioning something that came up in Tabor’s book. And so keep on going.
Evans: Well, what was it about Jesus’ teaching and His activities that some people found so offensive? Well, of course, there were disputes over the Sabbath and things like that; Jesus’ association with sinners.
But what we begin to see in that context is Jesus assumes the authority to forgive sins. “Who can forgive sins but God alone, people wondered?” [Mark 2:7] Well, as Son of Man, Jesus wants to demonstrate that on earth He has authority to forgive sins. Why does He say that, “Son of Man on earth”? [Mark 2:10] He’s talking about the Son of Man in heaven in Daniel 7 who received from the divine throne authority and kingdom. That’s an astonishing claim. And then, before Caiaphas the High Priest, He says, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand, coming in the clouds.” [Mark 14:62]
And you know what’s interesting about that? Some critics have said, “Oh, how can you be seated, which implies being stationary, and yet coming with the clouds, which implies movement?” And naturally some scholars think, “Oh, we must have two divergent traditions clumsily juxtaposed.” No we don’t! We are talking about God’s throne, which is actually part of a chariot. That’s the description in Daniel 7. That’s the breathtaking element here. Jesus is saying to Caiaphas, “The next time you see Me, I will be seated at God’s right hand in His chariot throne, thundering through the clouds of heaven, coming in judgment on God’s enemies. And you will be numbered among those enemies.” And that’s why Caiaphas was outraged and tore his robes and cried out, “Blasphemy!”
Ankerberg: In Mark 14, which everybody says is one of the earliest accounts, we read, Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asked Him, “’Are you the Christ [that is the Messiah], the Son of the blessed one [that is, the son of God]?’ Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see [here’s this Son of Man coming up] the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the mighty one and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his clothes, ‘Why do we need any more witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned him as worthy of death.” [Mark 14:61-64]
Now, hook that up with the verse that he was quoting from in Daniel, okay, that the Sanhedrin knew by heart, okay? And here it is, Daniel says, “In my vision that night I looked and there before me was one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days [that’s God] and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory, sovereign power. All peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion [is not just an earthly dynasty] His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” [Dan. 7:13-14]
So this is the data that we find in the New Testament documents and in the Old Testament scriptures. This is what you’re talking about that’s at stake here. And you’re saying?
Evans: That’s why Paul says, “God was, in Christ, reconciling the world.” [2 Cor. 5:19] That’s why in the fourth Gospel Jesus says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” [John 14:9] All of these traditions go back to Jesus’ breathtaking claim that He is the divine Son of Man described in Daniel 7. And that was not lost on Caiaphas. In other words, it was very well understood by His critics. And He was condemned to death for it.
Ankerberg: Gary, you’ve got some other spots in the New Testament that are multiply attested to that talk about Jesus being God.
Habermas: Yes. First of all, Craig’s got some of the best work out here on Mark 14, and I think “Son of Man,” “Son of God,” two titles that really, really deserve attention to get it back to Jesus.
But I would make the claim that we don’t wait decades to see the deity of Jesus. This is not an evolved doctrine. In fact, I would make the statement, might sound a little stunning to some, but I would say that if we use only the pre-Christian hymns, confessions, creeds, these embedded statements, dozens of them, in the New Testament. If we use only those comments, with the possible exception of John (possibly including John, that deserves some discussion) but arguably the highest or nearly the highest Christology can be taken from these embedded sayings alone.
So if you go back to the earliest statements about Jesus. I’m talking about, what do we do with a text like Romans 10:9, when just a few verses later it’s clear that “Lord” in that context: “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead.” And 10:13, the Lord is Jehovah, YHWH from the Old Testament. And so it’s pretty clear what Paul is saying here. But that’s not Paul, it’s a pre-Pauline confession.
Romans 1:3-4, where the names Lord, Son of God and Messiah are used in context, and we’re told that He gave proof of all these things, He gave witness to all these things, by being raised from the dead.
I’m thinking you have to do something to Philippians 2. The two book-end verses, Philippians 2:6, with the form, the morphe of God, balanced with 2:11, “every knee shall bow, every tongue confess,” which, of course, comes from the book of Isaiah, where the same language is not only used of YHWH, but He says, “I will not share my glory with another.” [Isa. 42:8] And this is attributed to Jesus.
And even that Johannine prologue in the first 18 verses. What do you do with that? Book-end verses. I would suggest, like the book-end verses in Philippians 2, you’ve got John 1:1, “the word was God,” and 1:18 in the better manuscripts, “the only begotten God in the bosom of the Father.” So you have book-ends in John 1, book-ends in Philippians 2. Romans 1, Romans 10. You have those early Acts sermon portions where Jesus is given very lofty titles.
And I think when you have this combination of what Jesus said about Himself and what the earliest church said, some New Testament scholars move these things, these Acts comments even, to the 30’s AD; 1 Corinthians 15 to before Paul’s conversion. These are early, early attestations. So when people say, and the implication is almost always there, “Well, after decades they copied off the mystery religions, and they began to realize He was a god.” First of all, you go to Jesus and then it’s there in the earliest embedded comments that are taken from the early preaching and later recorded in the pages of the New Testament.
Ankerberg: Yes, Craig, let’s talk about the fact is, these documents, let’s say we were non-Christians, okay? If you’re a history major, if you’re looking at ancient documents, sources rule. Earliest ones, basically, win, okay? Now, what’s happening today in these specials, the ones that we watched that you were on, and also the ones that are coming out and so on, the thing is, these specials are taking the Gnostic writings of 200 years after Christ and they’re trying to get parts of it back as close to the apostles writing as they can. And then they’re taking the New Testament documents, you’ve got nine sources, you’ve got Matthew, you’ve got Mark, you’ve got Luke, you’ve got John, you’ve got Paul, you’ve got Jude, you’ve got Peter, and the writer of Hebrews, and who am I leaving out? One more. The fact is, these sources, nine sources that are all written before, say, the first century is over, okay?
In fact, tell us about these sources and how you would date them, and why they are our best sources, and if you are a non-Christian just listening to this conversation, that you go to these sources for your information about Jesus and why it’s accurate information.
Evans: I quite agree, John. There’s a, you might even call it a stealth scholarship at work. And I found it so frustrating in my involvement in the National Geographic program that investigated the Gospel of Judas. Now, I think National Geographic did a great job, and they were very fair to me. But what I noticed in some of the other participants was this tendency to take what clearly are second century, if not later, sources and sneak them into an early period to try to get the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary, maybe even the Gospel of Judas also, and smuggle those later documents as close to the end of the first century as possible.
And then you will hear them, in reference to the New Testament gospel, and other New Testament writings, doing just the opposite, pushing them further away, as close to the end of the first century, maybe in some cases, even into the beginning of the second century so that they can then speak very loosely of “early Christian writings,” or “early Christianity.”
And then that is the backdrop to comments like “diversity in early Christianity” as if to say the diversity, which is clearly attested in these second century documents, as if all that is going on at about the same time. And so when Mark writes his gospel, or Matthew writes his gospel or when Paul writes his letters, it’s all sort of happening in the same generation. And we’ve got this great big diversity and it just so happens one stream won out. But is it any better than the other streams? “Oh, who knows?” And that’s the part about it that I find frustrating. And frankly it’s not critical discipline scholarship, it’s something else.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back, let’s push Paul back to almost the time of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, and I want you to show us how it’s done, and we need to tell the people what the evidence is. We’ll talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking about some of the most popular books that are out today, that specials are being done on television, including The Da Vinci Code, and The Jesus Dynasty, The Judas Papers, and Jesus Papers, and Misquoting Jesus, these books. There’s something that we as Christians look at these books, and we say, you know, we got a hard time. Number one is, Jesus did claim to be God in the early sources.
Last segment I said you know, some of the views that are being espoused are garbage. And what I mean, guys, by that is that, if you have Jesus’ statements in the earliest documents and it’s really a long time before we get to these Gnostic texts over here in the second part of the second century and so on, this material, if it’s 100 years from this material, this has got to trump this material.
Now, people will say, “Well, there’s parts of it that go back, you’ve got insipient Gnosticism that is floating out there. Even the New Testament authors kind of knock some of this stuff, so it had to be around.” And I agree. But, you still have this stream coming down from Jesus, and I’d like to demonstrate that by 1 Corinthians 15, which you are so well versed in. Talk to me about why 1 Corinthians 15, which is Paul’s account, goes back almost to Jesus Himself.
Habermas: Right. What we have in Paul, and you mentioned in the last segment, when you’re doing historiography probably no principles are more important than early testimony and authoritative testimony, people who are in the right time and the right place to report what they report. And 1 Corinthians 15 is arguably, I would say, the central text in present discussions on these subjects. And the reason is this, if we start with the cross at approximately 30 AD, if we call that ground zero, and before the gospels, before the earliest gospel, 1 Corinthians checks in at about 55 AD plus or minus, whether conservative or not conservative, we have 25 years.
I’ll just stop right there and I’d say, in ancient historiography this is incredible. In a time when the best-known biography of Alexander the Great, that of Plutarch, is almost 400 years after Plutarch, when we learn from the early Caesars, from Tacitus and Suetonius and a good gap is 100 years, 25 is incredible.
From a person, Paul, which, you’re going to look hard to find a critic who doesn’t admit that Paul believed he saw the risen Jesus. And here you have him writing this account and giving a report, which he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “I’m passing on to you as of first importance that which I also received.”
Well, wait a minute! If the cross is ground zero and 1 Corinthians 15 is a mere 25 years later, Paul said in the first two verses of that chapter, he’s writing it here, but he says, “I proclaimed this to you when I came.” When did he go to Corinth? A few years earlier, perhaps 51 AD. Now we’re plus 21. But here’s the key. Paul said, “I gave you what I was given.” And being an apostle, we have to at least give Paul credit for having done rabbinic research. At least he believes that these came from good sources.
Well, in fact, contemporary scholarship, almost everyone who answers this question believes that Paul received this material, actually Galatians 1:18, they believe that Paul received this material when he went to Jerusalem about five years after the cross. Some put it as early as three, like Gerd Ludemann, and as late as eight, that’s the range. So average about five years.
And Paul does the math for you. Here’s the cross, if he comes to Christ in his trip to Damascus, perhaps at plus two, three years later he’s in Jerusalem, two plus three, some might move it up or back. But he’s in Jerusalem, he’s with Peter and James, he spends 15 days with them. I love C. H. Dodd’s comment, they spent 15 days together, and it’s safe to say that they did more than talk about the weather. In the context before and after, they’re talking about the gospel. So, I mean, what else would they talk about? Paul said, “I preach nothing but Christ and him crucified.” [1 Cor. 1:23] But that is the context, in Galatians 1, both before that comment in the beginning in Galatians 2.
So he’s there with Peter and James, and then he comes back, in Galatians 2. He makes a second trip to Jerusalem. And I think Galatians 2:2, is one of the most incredible verses in the entire New Testament: “I set before them the gospel that I was preaching to see if I was running in vain.” Now, vain, I mean, you know, check out 1 Corinthians 15 and what vain is. And he’s going to subject his gospel to James, Peter, and now John is there. The biggest foursome in the early church, the most influential writers (check Tabor) the most influential men in the early church. They are there together, and Galatians 2:6, “they added nothing to me.” Galatians 2:9-10, where we get our little phrase, “they gave us the right hand of fellowship.”
Now, if we can trust Paul, and Paul’s the darling of critical scholarship, Paul lays before them the Gospel, “they added nothing to me,” and “they confirmed our message.” Who? James, Peter and John. Wait a minute! I thought we had a divergent tradition here! The James tradition, the Paul tradition. That runs roughshod over Galatians 1 and Galatians 2, unanimously ascribed to Paul in about 50 AD, perhaps?
One more thing: if he gets this in 35 AD, that’s simply when Paul received the material. And he got it from James and Peter, they had it before him. So you have Gerd Ludemann saying that this material dates from perhaps three years after the cross. You have the Jesus Seminar, in their Acts of Jesus book, saying by their vote, that this Pauline material probably preceded Paul’s conversion. So now you have it in that little tiny opening between the cross and Paul.
And of late one of the most influential, if not the most influential theologian right now, James D. G. Dunn, said in his recent book, Remembering Jesus, that this passage, 1 Corinthians 15:3ff, wasn’t just taught, it was already stratified, it was already put into this creedal form within months of the crucifixion, says Dunn. Now, we know Jesus dies in the spring. Within months? This is a 30 AD report, according to James Dunn.
You know, if you’re going to talk about second century things, talk about second century things. But I want to know how we’re going to beat 30-35 AD.
Ankerberg: Yes. So now you’ve got this report that goes right back to Jesus Himself. And I mean that, from 150 years later for people talking about Jesus, is like us talking about people before Abraham Lincoln, for Pete’s sake. That’s a long period of time. And to say that the people 150 years after Christ have got the scoop and Paul and James and Peter do not.
And again, these fellows are testifying to what Paul says there. The reason that’s a creedal statement is because the language that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians, he doesn’t use some of those words in other places. So the scholars concede that. Talk to me about that.
Evans: Well, that’s very important. We look for these kinds of embedded nuggets for early tradition that predates the writer, tradition that the writer appeals to because it’s common ground. Keep that in mind.
Paul has a problem with what some Christians at Corinth are saying about the resurrection. So he appeals to, not just common ground, but ground that precedes Paul himself and his theological developments and reflections. And so this is very important pre-Pauline common ground. And he tells the Corinthians, be reminded of this, and keep in mind what this is teaching.
I agree with Gary that is very significant. It’s very old, very primitive. And to overthrow that with traditions that developed 100, 150 years later! I find that a very, very dubious way to proceed.
Habermas: John, if I could just jump in here for a second. I don’t want to be misunderstood as being two things here. Not only is this material early and eyewitness. Everyone says at least for Paul it’s eyewitness. And we have Paul’s comments about three other eyewitnesses. So at least we have Paul’s comment on them. But the other thing is the Tabor response that there’s two early traditions, and James does not agree with Paul. I just want to say, the same material that says this is early says there were not two traditions.
Now, somebody might say, “Wait a minute! Didn’t Paul and Peter have an argument?” Yes, they did. It’s Galatians 2, the second half of the same chapter. But it’s over a periphery item. It’s over fellowship with Gentiles. They do not discuss the center. They are in agreement there. “They added nothing to me,” Galatians 2:6; “They gave us the right hand of fellowship,” Galatians 2:9-10. The earliest leaders are together on this.
And to overthrow that is going to be very difficult in light of the authorship of Galatians; Paul being behind it, and Paul being, you know, a rabbinic source, a good-thinking mind who gives us his name and place on this. It’s a solid line of evidence.
Ankerberg: Yes, Craig, for the non-Christian that is listening to this, what we’re saying is, look, if you’re a non-Christian, these are solid sources that you’ve got to deal with. Summarize what the conclusion is when you actually come to this and give it a fair shake.
Evans: When you get right down to it, when you boil it down to its simplest terms, Paul himself knew eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and resurrection. Paul himself was encountered and changed by the risen Christ. I would take Paul’s testimony any day over the fanciful and hypothetical reconstructions of some of these modern writers.

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