Refuting the New Controversial Theories About Jesus – Program 5
|By: Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2006|
|The Bible certainly never hints that Jesus was married, yet some scholars today insist he was—but didn’t want anyone to know. Why would he need to hide such a thing?|
Did Jesus Need to Hide the Fact of His Marriage?
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 five books that are hitting in the bookstores all across our country, one of them being The Da Vinci Code. But I want to talk about this book this week in relationship with a couple of key topics that you’re just going to have to know about. I mean, you may not want to know about them, but you’re going to have to know these questions. Did Jesus have sexual relations with Mary Magdalene, and did they have a child? Did the church suppress this secret of Jesus’ marriage in order to suppress the truth of who He really was?
- And, Craig, start us off on these things. Let’s ask the question this way: Out of all the writings, Gnostic writings, all of the books at Nag Hammadi, and all of the other books that have been found, the Egyptian codices and so on, plus all of the church fathers, anything that’s in your library, take all of that, how much evidence do you have that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene?
- Evans: None. That’s the interesting thing about this whole discussion. There isn’t anything that really suggests that Jesus was married. And, of course, there would be no reason, from the cultural view of the Jewish people, that Jesus not be married. So it wouldn’t have been a scandal had Jesus been married, had Jesus had a family and children and so on.
- But there isn’t a shred of credible evidence that suggests that He was married. And remember, early Christians were fascinated with details that related to Jesus. And that’s why, in the second, third, fourth centuries and beyond, stories were made up about Jesus as a little boy, what kind of things that He did. Was He a good student? Was He a good athlete? Imagination had no bounds. And yet nobody had Him married.
- And if Jesus had had a wife, whether it’s Mary Magdalene, or anyone else, had He had children, there’s no way that would have been a secret. The earliest church would have known that; in fact, probably would have celebrated that. A wife would have been considered a heroine! She would have been the center of a lot of attention. There’s no way it would have been kept a secret; there’d have been no reason to keep it a secret. So to answer your question, is there any evidence that Jesus was married or had a lover? The answer is no.
- Ankerberg: Before we look at the text, the Gnostic text, that some point to as possibly a place where it was at, let’s keep on that point. The fact is, there’s plenty of evidence to show that He was single, and that’s not bad. In other words, there were Jewish leaders in the Essene community, as well as John the Baptist. These guys were honored, but they were single, okay? Jesus was single, but don’t we have a list when Paul’s talking about the apostles and so on where if the other apostles had wives, if he mentions their wives, like Peter’s wife and the others, the fact is, wouldn’t it have been great, I mean, could he have left out Jesus’ wife, Mary Magdalene, if that had actually been the case, and mentioned all the others? I don’t think so. So it would be strong evidence, don’t you think, that this shows Jesus was single. What else do you think about?
- Evans: Well, sure, and some of these fiction writers think that all Jewish men were expected to marry. Well, they’re mistaken. Sure, most Jewish men did get married and have children, raise families, and so on. But there were categories outlined in Scriptures, there were reasons. We do know of actual groups, like the Essenes you mentioned, where the men chose to be single. Jesus Himself in one of His sayings refers to men who remain single for the sake of the kingdom of God. I’m sure He has Himself in mind there. He is one such person who has chosen to remain single to do His work.
- Ankerberg: Talk about The Gospel of Philip and what you find there. Your friend Elaine Pagels at Princeton talks about this. And a lot of people put their assumptions into this text that’s filled with holes where you don’t actually have the words. Talk to us about that.
- Evans: Yes. This is in The Gospel of Philip, where in one place it says, in reference to Mary, “Jesus kissed her on…” and there’s a hole in the text. And of course, there’s a joke among scholars. These holes are called “lacunae,” and so we often will say, well the most interesting parts in a fragmentary text are in the lacunae. In other words, the parts not there where the imagination can run wild and we can speculate.
- Well, we don’t know what the text says. Some translations say, “Jesus kissed her on the lips.” But “lips” is not there. We don’t know. He might have kissed her on the end of her nose, kissed her on the forehead, kissed her on the cheek, kissed her on her hand. We don’t know. And don’t forget, in the Jewish culture of that time, kissing people, as Judas kissed Jesus, is a greeting and shows affection. And it does not at all suggest a romantic relationship.
- Ankerberg: Talk about The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
- Evans: Well, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, at best second century fragmentary gospel, has Mary singled out for special revelation and special teaching from Jesus which she then shares to a very skeptical group of male disciples. But again, to infer from this fragmentary text that Jesus had some kind of a relationship, that Mary was a lover or His wife, goes way beyond the actual evidence.
- Ankerberg: Why are these guys using the word “suppressed”: the church suppressed this, the church suppressed this, they suppressed the secret of Jesus’ marriage in order to keep secret the truth of who He really was. What’s going on here?
- Evans: That’s a gratuitous assertion. Our conspiracy theory fiction writers love to throw that around. And so it’s a trick in my view. You’ve got a theory but it has no evidence? So how do you explain the lack of evidence? Oh, it’s easy. You just say it’s been suppressed. And that is special pleading in its worst form.
- Ankerberg: Gary, pick up here. One of the things that The Da Vinci Code says is that the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, they are the ones that decided, well Constantine helped them, and he invented the deity of Jesus. And up until that point nobody even knew that He was even claiming to be God, let alone that He was saying that He was God, anything like that. The fact is, that’s when it came into being. Talk to me about that.
- Habermas: And told them that He was a mere mortal, I think the text says, or something like that.
- Ankerberg: Yes.
- Habermas: Well, on an earlier program we discussed the planting or placing of the teaching of the deity of Christ inside the Jesus tradition: Son of Man, Son of God. Then the early creedal embeddedness in the gospels; in the earliest passages, many dating perhaps to the 30s AD, we have high Christology: He’s the Lord as in the Lord of the Old Testament, Romans 10, in the morphe of God, you know, “every knee will bow.” But that’s only for YHWH, you know. You have this in the early creedal passages.
- Then you have it in the very earliest books, even James that Tabor likes as the book in this other tradition. There’s a high Christology in James 1:1; 2:1, key places. It would surely seem that those words mean what they mean elsewhere and that we have a high Christology throughout the New Testament.
- Then we have that same high Christology in Clement and Ignatius and Polycarp who explicitly called Jesus God; Ignatius in particular, and going right on.
- So now, in every point in this path, with Jesus Himself we’ve predated Nicaea by three centuries, not four centuries, by the way, as Brown says. He says it’s fourth century afterwards, but we’ve beaten him to the punch by 300 years.
- So if you want to say He’s a mere mortal and He’s never been proclaimed that, I mean it’s the same thing over and over again. It runs roughshod over the data. It’s a novel so you can say whatever you want. But the pity is that people are quoting these things as if that’s the fact. It’s almost like it’s a way out for people who wanted a way out. But that’s not anything to do with the data we have.
- Ankerberg: Craig, what happened at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD? Were they inventing the deity of Jesus? And what about, did they decide which books were in and which books were out of the New Testament? And did they suppress all these Gnostic texts and burn them?
- Evans: Oh, this is so overstated. At the Council of Nicaea, the Bishops that gathered together were trying to define the deity of Jesus. And they wanted to make sure they struck a balance that was in tune with Scriptural teaching and what apostles actually taught and what Jesus Himself taught. Because, the danger was emphasizing the deity at the expense of the humanity; or perhaps going in the other direction: de-emphasizing the deity in order to give emphasis to the humanity.
- And so the theologians that gathered had to weigh the biblical evidence and try to be fair to all the evidence at hand. The idea that the emperor Constantine stepped in and said, “Look, this is what I think the teaching ought to be,” that’s absurd. He did not give a Bible to the church as Dan Brown’s fictional characters incorrectly state; and he did not impose the divinity of Jesus on the Council either. That is all bogus.
- Ankerberg: Absolutely. The fact is, you also, you can read all of the decisions, the 20 decisions that are actually printed in Eusebius, and what happened there, and you won’t find either one of those in those decisions that were made.
- But pick up another one. In The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown’s characters say that there were over 80 gospels to choose from, and basically all those were discarded in favor of these four. What about that?
- Evans: Dan Brown is confused at many points. He exaggerates the number of gospels, for one thing. He refers to the Nag Hammadi codices, the Gnostic codices, as scrolls, and they are not. And he refers to the Dead Sea Scrolls as books. And he says the Dead Sea Scrolls give us the earliest records of the life of Jesus, and they don’t. He has gotten his goofy sources from Michael Baigent’s works, and he’s even misunderstood some of that. In another program I likened it to just throwing a lot of junk into a blender, hitting the button and out comes this gray soup and out of that he makes a theory. And so he’s got his facts – bogus facts, misunderstood, confused – and out of that comes a novel. Nobody should take it seriously.
- Ankerberg: Alright, let’s go to the next step though, and that is the fact is that Walter Bauer in Germany put out a book about early Christianity and it was picked up by Helmut Koester at Harvard, and taught to Elaine Pagels at Princeton, and Bart Ehrman has picked this up, and others. And that was this, that we’ve got this kind of different Christianities, okay, Gnosticism is just one of them, and they’re kind of all on an equal playing level here. And that eventually the traditional Christians, the powerful ones, beat out all these other guys, and these were suppressed. And now, since Nag Hammadi and so on, we’ve discovered this, and now these suppressed Christians are now speaking to us, and we need to hear their crying voice. Okay. Talk about the theories that are at Harvard and Princeton and Yale that are kind of creeping over into the popular literature and why that’s not true.
- Evans: I think what’s going on is a politically correct, egalitarian principle that is cherished in the ivory tower academic community today is being foisted on the first few centuries of the church, so that it’s very fashionable to speak of Christianities, divergent voices, and say they’re all basically equal in value and credibility. I mean, after all, it takes faith, whichever system you decide to go with, they’re equally valid and so on. And I think that’s where a lot of the problem comes from.
- What I find credible is the people who know Jesus and pass on His teaching accurately and infer from things He said and did and so on, as Paul does in his letters. And this is where Christian theology comes from. It grows out of the historical person of Jesus and what He really said and did.
- But what happens is, there are other peoples out there that like some parts of that story, and they like other parts of other stories and they blend it together and come up with a new composite slightly Christian, but mostly not Christian, religious approach. And that’s Gnosticism.
- I, in fact, think that there is no such thing as Christian Gnosticism or Gnostic Christians. If they really do embrace the principles of Gnosticism, there’s no way you can call them Christian. And just because they talk about Jesus or incorporate things Jesus said or did into their construct, that doesn’t make it Christian.
- Why? Real simple: they fracture the Godhead, so you have a good God up above, God of Light, and a bad God, that’s YHWH, the God of the Old Testament, who’s made this world. How in the world can that be Christian? The world is bad? The human body is bad? That’s not Christian thinking. Jesus only pretends to be human, as some Gnostics taught? How’s that Christian? Jesus really didn’t suffer for human sins, in fact, it isn’t His death on the cross that saves anyone; it’s knowledge?
- None of this is Christian. None of this is biblical. And so I think it’s misleading to refer to this as Christian Gnosticism, or Gnostic Christians. And that adds to this idea that you’ve got all these Christianities out there, kind of like a buffet, select one that fits you. And that’s okay; it’s just as valid as anything else. That is misleading.
- Ankerberg: Alright, Craig was one of the “dream team” experts that was put together by National Geographic to examine The Gospel of Judas. And when we come back we’re going to talk about this some more in terms of, if Gnosticism should not be associated with Christianity, again, we’re going to talk about why are the scholars continuing to talk about Gnostic Christianity, and we’re going to actually use this as an example of how different Christianity is from Gnosticism. Stick around. We’ll be right back.
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. And if you’re alive out there, and you’re listening, I’ll tell you what, the fact is, you know about The Da Vinci Code. Forty million people have bought the book already. That means if they shared it with a friend, 80 million people have been initiated into the view of this book. This book talks about these kinds of books as being the “real” Christianity. This is a Gnostic text, and we’ve got one of the experts that National Geographic picked out to examine this text. It’s an authentic text and yet, this is not true Christianity. And, Craig, explain what the core beliefs again are of Gnosticism, why it’s not Christianity; what the core beliefs are of Christianity, and then take this back to Da Vinci, why he’s wrong.
- Evans: Okay, the Gnostic view fractures the Godhead into two Gods, a good God above and an evil God that’s made the earth. This evil God is none other than the God of the Old Testament, it’s YHWH. And so the world, the created world, is considered irredeemably evil. It can’t be saved, it’s going to be destroyed, it’s going to perish. The human body is part of this evil. In fact, the human body is a prison house that keeps the enlightened spark trapped. And so the idea is to escape this prison house, certainly not redeem it.
- That’s Gnosticism. In fact, it not only has a different God, it has a completely different view of Jesus; it has a completely different set of books that are regarded as authoritative. So if I might take an old saying and change it a bit, if it doesn’t look a duck, if it doesn’t quack like a duck, if it doesn’t walk like a duck, you know what? It probably isn’t a duck. And so I don’t think Christian Gnosticism is a meaningful term. If it’s truly Gnostic, it isn’t Christian. If it’s truly Christian, it isn’t Gnostic.
- And I think some of the scholars in the discussion these days are muddying the waters and making it confusing for the public when they hear talk about Gnostic Christianity or all these different kinds of Christianities. If Jesus isn’t seen as God’s son, if the true God is not the God of the Old Testament and the Judeo-Christian heritage, then we’re talking about something else. It isn’t Christianity any more.
- Ankerberg: Yes. Talk about how the canon actually came down to us. Was it invented at Nicaea? How did we recognize that we ought to have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John? And how should we have Paul’s writings? I mean, why do we have those writings in there and why don’t we have some of the other books in there?
- Habermas: Well, arguably, you know, one of the responses to this is when Brown and others say “80 gospels, and they were burned,” there’s a point at which I want to say, “Well, look. If the cut off point is 100 AD, for the sake of the discussion, we only have four gospels at that time, demonstrably.” Some want to feed other things in here, but the ones the scholars are sure about, four books.
- You could almost say the church is very inviting, the church is very gracious, because there are differences between Mark and John. They didn’t get in there and weed everything out, and say “John’s a little bit later, a little more theological, let’s throw John out.” They said, “Let’s put everything we have in here.” And the books we have are the books they had at that time.
- Right at the close of 100 AD and just before that date, Clement, 97, Ignatius, 107, Polycarp, 110, if you want to go as far as Papias, 125, some fragments, these folks, in terms of the first three, quote at least the oral tradition if not the books themselves, but the words of Jesus. They quote the epistles of Paul, and they are familiar with the early papyri because they say Papias refers to a couple of gospels. So they’re familiar with the text. And the gospels, Acts and Paul’s epistles are accepted immediately. Nobody discusses those books. They’re not disputed. They’re accepted right away.
- Now, as time goes on, there’s some dispute about some of the other books. I mean, we have to allow that. There’s some dispute about some of the later books that are placed, generally, at the end of the New Testament. But by 180 AD, we have the Muratorian Fragment, while, even though it’s broken off, it’s starting to look a lot like our New Testament. So even just right there, that’s a hundred and what? Forty-five years before Nicaea? Doesn’t sound to me like somebody waited for 145 years.
- We have Tatian’s four-fold gospel from 10 years earlier than Muratorian, and it’s four. It’s not 20, it’s four. And they could say, “Well, that’s just people lording it over the other folks.” But wait a minute, you go back, like I said to these four folks real early, only one after 110 AD, and those are the books they recognized. And by the way, there was not vote on books taken at Nicaea, so that’s just a myth there.
- I think what you see here is a movement that starts tentatively, but right from the beginning, even somewhat tentative, the gospels, Acts and the epistles of Paul are the two bodies – gospels-Acts / Paul – the two bodies that make it unanimously, we can be happy there’s some bickering about other books, because that shows we weren’t gullible, we weren’t willing to take everything, we wanted to discuss these things, what’s played out in different areas. That’s very, very important. So we don’t have to look at that as, “Oh, boy, we don’t want to talk about those books at the end of the New Testament,” that’s helpful too.
- But I would say this, if you just look at those books I mentioned, by far the bulk in terms of words, chapters, by far the bulk of the New Testament was recognized at the close, right after the close, of the first century canon. In fact, you could say this of the disputed books at the end, there’s only two books, Hebrews and Revelation, that are longer than five chapters. My point being that those are the shorter writings. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re not important, but the bulk’s already in. Luke-Acts is more than a quarter bulk-wise. Luke-Acts is about 27% of the entire New Testament. So these long, you know, involved books, Paul’s epistles, these theological works, they were recognized from the beginning. I think we’ve got to see that process.
- Ankerberg: Alright, let’s wrap this up. And, Craig, let’s go on the offensive, because we’re always playing defense here. All of these books have come down, these specials have come down, you’ve got the movie coming out. Let’s reverse this. For the person that’s a non-Christian, what is the recommendation you would give toward traditional Christianity? Why this, if you actually do all the research, if you do all the study, this comes out as being the truth?
- Evans: I would urge anyone who’s a seeker to do what all scholars do in all other disciplines, and that’s go with the earliest stuff that is widely recognized and widely received. Don’t specialize in stuff on the fringe that almost nobody took seriously. Unfortunately, that’s the infatuation with a lot of this modern semi-scholarship and popular writing.
- Ankerberg: Alright. Next week we’re going to talk about the fact of, were there two Messiahs, John the Baptist and Jesus, as one of these authors says? We’re going to talk about Pilate; do we have an accurate historical account of Pilate? Almost all of these writers say that the New Testament got it wrong, it’s just not historical in what it says about Pilate. So I hope that you’ll join us next week.