The Battle to Dethrone Jesus/Program 1

By: Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace; ©2007
Jesus the man from Nazareth, a good teacher; or Jesus the son of God. Is Jesus one or the other? Is he both? Why is your answer important?



Today in America there is a raging debate about two fundamentally different stories being told about Jesus. One story is Christianity; the other is best described as Jesusanity. The central ideas of Christianity are that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, who died for our sins, rose from the dead, and can personally purify and transform us and give us eternal life. The central idea of the other story, Jesusanity, is that Jesus is only a mere man and a special teacher, one who performs no miracles, makes no claims to be the Messiah or the Son of God, does not die for anyone sins, and does not accept faith in himself or worship. This radical new story of Jesusanity has been conveyed in today’s media though popular novels, a myriad of books, and network television specials such as The Da Vinci Code, The Jesus Papers, The Jesus Dynasty, and the so called Family Tomb of Jesus. People want to know which story correctly describes Jesus. To answer this question, we must ask, does Christianity possess the solid historical roots it has always claimed, and is based on the testimony of those who knew Jesus personally and accurately conveyed his teachings and the events of his life; or is the biblical portrait of Jesus by and large a fabrication the embellished memory of early Christians, who created a mythical Jesus?

My guests today on The John Ankerberg Show are two well known scholars. First Dr. Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament Research at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has appeared on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and the Discovery Channel as an authority on the historical Jesus. Second, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, one of the world’s leading scholars on textual criticism and the Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament. He is also Director of the Center for the Study of Greek New Testament manuscripts. He is the Senior New Testament editor for the NET Bible and Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Seminary. Listen as they lead us through the maze of new radical ideas that are attempting to redefine Jesus as nothing more than a mere man, information they have presented in their new book, Dethroning Jesus.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We have a great one for you today. We’re talking about the new information that is being introduced to all of us via the media. And by media I’m talking about popular novels like The Da Vinci Code, scholarly books, television specials, the whole gamut. And new information is being given to us about Jesus, and they’re asking us at the end of it to redefine and change traditional Christianity as we know that. Now, we’ve got two guests that are some of the world’s leading scholars right there. And, Darrell Bock, you’ve seen him on ABC and NBC and CNN and Fox. And every time they have a historical special it seems like Darrell is one of the folks that was there. And we’re glad that he is here. He’s written a new book, Dethroning Jesus, with his coauthor here, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, who is one of the top textual critics in the world. And he is also one of the great readers and collectors of the New Testament text in terms of the copies of the manuscript that have come down to us; and also a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Now, guys, I’m glad that you’re here. And, Darrell, you’ve just written an interesting article that’s coming out “When the Media Becomes a Nuisance.” And one of the things that really struck me in this article was the fact that you said that something has changed in our society about the way we get information about Jesus and where that’s taking us. And then you talk about what we talked about in the introduction. There are two stories about Jesus being told. Tell us about that.
Bock: Well, the way in which information is changing is that it’s coming direct to the public. It’s coming not through university channels and not just among scholars, but there actually is an effort by scholars to inform the public on what’s on going on in the university campuses with this different portrait of Jesus. When you pull that into the public square, you have two stories of Jesus in the public square, both of which are called Christianity, but are very different. And so I’ve given them the names of Christianity on the one hand – where the person of Jesus is at the center of the story, it’s his work as well as his message that’s important. And then there’s Jesusanity, which refers to Jesus of Nazareth, and there it is his teaching that is important, but his person is not. So in one Jesus is the Christ, the chosen one of God, the anointed one around whom the entire program of God rotates. In the other, Jesus is just a messenger. And he’s a prophet, which means he’s respected, but he’s not regarded as anything special in terms of the work that he does, other than to deliver a message.
Ankerberg: Yeah. And you say they’ve introduced what are called conversation stoppers to the public, so that anybody that’s having a conversation about Jesus, via the media today we have these conversation stoppers. Give me a couple of examples.
Bock: Well, for example, what do you do with all these other gospels that were written and never made it in the Bible but should have? Or, don’t you realize that history is written by the winners? And the New Testament was written by the winners, and now we’ve found the stuff by the losers, so now we’ve got to change the picture because we’ve got the whole conversation.
Ankerberg: Yeah. What I want to do in this first program is to start to answer that question by giving an outline of the information, the historical roots of Christianity: why we believe that the information we have about Jesus goes right back to Jesus and the apostles. That’s being targeted today in a variety of ways that we’re going to talk about, whether it’s The Da Vinci Code, or The Jesus Papers, The Jesus Dynasty, or Lost Tomb of Jesus, The Family Tomb of Jesus. All these things center on the fact of Jesusanity. They’re pushing that view.
To counteract that view, one of the things that I’ve seen in terms of the vulnerability of our Christians that are listening is they don’t know our side of the tracks of what the roots are. And I want to put up the outline and then I want you guys to fill in this outline. Alright? The outline is this: Number 1, a person called Jesus Christ actually lived. Second, he picked out from the people that followed him, twelve apostles. Third is, he died. We’re going to talk about the resurrection, but he died, at least.
And then, 50 days after he passed off the scene we have this event called Pentecost in Jerusalem where the apostles that had been with Jesus for three years, they stand up and they preach a message, and 3,000 Jews convert over to Christianity. From that group of people, then you get the next point is from that group that converted – to whatever that message was, we’re going to talk about what that message was that they preached 50 days afterwards – those folks went back across the Roman Empire to 15 people groups, from Rome to Saudi Arabia, to Turkey, to Egypt, and in between. The fact is you have these people founding churches right off of that message. Alright?
And then what you have is you have this time before the New Testament letters and books came out. And so the question becomes, what did the people look at, what did they use to answer the question “what is orthodox Christian belief, what is not?” And I want you to talk about the stuff they had. Well, number one, you had living apostles still walking around. You could have said, you got a question, you say, Peter, come over for coffee. That’s one thing. But the other thing is, you have statements of doctrine, creedal statements – we’re going to talk about what that is, but they’re there – that go right back to the beginning. You’ve got hymns or singing, and then you’ve got the sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. After that, then you start to have the apostles’ letters coming out, letters and books, and we’re going to talk about when they started to come out, how much time from the time Jesus passed off the scene and they preached at Pentecost to the time the first books started showing up. And then you also have, besides that, you have the students of the living apostles and then the students of the students, the church fathers, the leaders of Christianity. And then down the pike you have what are called the Lost Gospels, Gnostic Gospels, blah, blah, blah.
Now, that’s the outline. Let’s start with this. How do we know that Jesus Christ actually lived, was a historical person?
Bock: We have pretty good evidence outside anything in the Bible from Josephus in a saying in the Antiquities. It’s in book 18. And in this excerpt, which is disputed because there are things that are said in it in the way it’s been passed on to us that a Jewish person wouldn’t say; things like “he was the Christ.” And it also has a confession of resurrection in there. Josephus wouldn’t have written that. But most people who look at this citation say that it does tell us Jesus existed; he had an unusual ministry in which he performed unusual deeds; that he was crucified during the time of Pilate at the instigation of the Jewish leadership; and that he created a following as a result of that death. Now, those are pretty basic core facts. But since there are some people who argue that Jesus Christ never in fact existed at all, it’s an important piece of evidence, coming from a Jewish historian, writing about this period of history.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Let’s just put up our old buddy Gary Habermas and his book The Historical Jesus, where he goes back and he looks at at least 17 non-Christian sources about the life of Christ and comes up with 129 facts, okay, before you get to the New Testament. And they’re in agreement with the New Testament, or they’re substantiating what the New Testament says. Then, we need to say you have proof from the historical records. The earliest historical records are?
Bock: Well, the earliest historical records that we have are the materials that we see in the New Testament. These are your Gospels, this is the book of Acts, things that are said in the epistles of Paul and the other epistles. So there are several materials that have come from the first century that are incorporated into our New Testament. And what’s important in talking about them this way is they are historical documents. They tell us what people in the first century believe. We’re not talking about these documents yet at the point of saying these are inspired, these are the word of God, but that their content is reflective of what first century people who allied themselves to Jesus actually believed.
Ankerberg: Yeah. In fact, when I came to Christianity, the fact is, I did not stop and say here’s a book that fell out of heaven that’s inspired and inerrant, okay. I came to these books like I came to Herodotus or Catullus or somebody else in ancient history. And I said, does this give me solid information about this time period and a person in this time period? And so I’m saying if you start there, the idea of inspiration and inerrancy comes a little later down the pike after you accept a couple of other things. But you don’t start there. You start with, do we have historical information that’s solid?
Okay. All of these sources, plus other sources then, say, from a group of people that follow Jesus – everybody says people were following Jesus for whatever reason – okay, from that group he picks 12 apostles, alright? Tell me how we know he picked 12.
Bock: Well, we have a pretty clear tradition that 12 were selected. In that group we have Judas, which means that Jesus selected someone who eventually would betray him. Sometimes people will say, well, the number 12 is made up. It parallels the 12 tribes of Israel and it’s just a way of getting a nice literary mix so that the following of Jesus mirrors the situation in Israel. But if you were making it up, remember that if you say you get to make it up, that means you get to make the rules. If you’re making the rules, you wouldn’t pick, you wouldn’t have the son of God pick someone who’s going to betray him. So this is called, in critical studies, the criteria of embarrassment, that there’s something that doesn’t quite fit. And because it doesn’t fit, it’s more likely to have happened than to have been made up.
Ankerberg: Alright, Jesus dies, Dan. And the fact is, something happens. Okay, we’re going to talk about the resurrection along the way, but let’s just say everybody agrees he died. John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar says one of the surest facts of history is that Jesus died. Even Gerd Ludemann, the atheist, says he died. Okay? Now, if he died, then he wasn’t a traveler to Egypt, he wasn’t a traveler to India, he didn’t go up to Spain, blah, blah, blah. He died, okay? Fifty days from the time that he’s put into the grave, you have this other event, a Jewish celebration called Pentecost, and what happens?
Wallace: What’s interesting is, on the day of Pentecost, you have the disciples proclaiming the Gospel, speaking in tongues, in Jerusalem. And not only that, but they have been empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus has ascended 10 days before the Pentecost, and he says not many days from now the Spirit’s going to come on you and you’re going to be empowered by him. And then they speak in tongues to all these people who’ve gathered from around the Mediterranean world, all the Jews from the Diaspora, or the dispersion. And on that day, that’s when the Gospel goes out everywhere. And so what you have is, you have the possibility, this is what the Jesus Seminar says, is you have a loss of memory on the part of these apostles. Well, that loss of memory so that they could reconstruct what Jesus would have been about, would have to happen before the day of Pentecost.
Ankerberg: Yeah, you’ve got to ask the question, come on, are you telling me that they were with him for three years and in 50 days they forgot everything they had heard him teach and everything that they saw?
Wallace: I know, I know! Well, not only would they have forgotten everything about him, but they would have replaced it with a consistent myth. And on top of that, they’ve got more than these 11, 12 apostles; they’ve got another 100 people or so that are with them that would say, wait a minute! It wasn’t like that, it wasn’t like this. This is what Jesus said. They’ve got a memory in community, if you will, that’s going to reinforce the things they heard from Jesus and the way they thought about it.
Ankerberg: Not only that, but they’re talking to the crowd in Jerusalem that just watched Jesus get crucified!
Wallace: Exactly.
Ankerberg: And Peter,… well, let’s talk about that. We’re going to take a break. We’re going to come back. We’re going to fill out this outline. It’s stuff you need to know, so stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Darrell Bock, we’re talking with Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, and we’re just having a fascinating conversation about the historical information that has come down to us that is solid, the roots of Christianity which are being attacked every which way in the media today, undermined, in terms of they’re saying we have to have alternative Christianity to the one that you folks have grown up with. Now, we’re saying, whoa, hold up on that, tiger. Let’s look at this one more time. And we started with the fact you’ve got Jesus. You’ve got he picked out 12 apostles. Then he died. Then we think he rose from the dead, and we’re going to talk about that, but the fact is at least he died. And the fact is then 50 days later these apostles, it’s incredible to believe that anybody would suggest that they forgot everything that Jesus had taught them over three years, and had forgotten all about his miracles. And further, that fact is, what about the people that are standing there listening to them? Peter addresses those people in that sermon that’s recorded in Acts.
Bock: Basically what he says is that what God promised would happen when the Messiah came and when the new age was arriving is what is taking place; that the Messiah has come; that the Spirit has gone out into God’s people, and that through that there is the testimony of God doing a work inside someone. And he stresses the fact, Peter does, that “we were witnesses of these things.” [2 Pet. 1:16] In fact, to be an apostle, the reason Jesus had apostles was to gather around him, in effect, students; students who would learn, sit at his feet and learn what he was teaching and then take out the message to different part of what ended up being the world with the hope of what that message represented, and that is that God was in the business of restoring broken relationships with people.
Ankerberg: Alright. Dan, 3,000 Jews convert to the message, okay? They take that and they go back across the Roman Empire, and those churches, starting from 50 days out when they got back to their spots, the fact is, they start establishing churches. The question is, what was the message that they were preaching to establish those churches?
Wallace: Well, the interesting thing is that after you have this alleged loss of memory, which couldn’t have happened, really, now you do have a loss of control by the apostles. On the day of Pentecost, the day the church is born, now the message spreads throughout the whole Mediterranean region. And yet we have a consistency in terms of the core of what these people believed everywhere! And so years later Paul could write to the Romans, to the Thessalonians, the Gospel has spread out from you to the whole world, this kind of thing. [Rom. 1:8; 1 Thess. 1:8] And what that basic message was was simply that Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross and was raised from the dead. And he is the one who brings us to God by forgiving our sins.
Ankerberg: Alright, that gets us to the question of, alright, let’s say you’ve got these churches established, and now you’ve got the living apostles walking around. So you’re going to ask them a question, they’re also teaching the churches, they can correct information. So to answer the question, how did the early Christians, when they didn’t have the New Testament – it wasn’t written yet – how did they know what was orthodox and what was not? Well, you’ve got the living boys that are right there, the authoritative ones. And I always think of the fact of, if they could come in and raise the dead, I mean, that catches your attention, you know what I mean! You’ve got to say, we’ve got to listen to this boy. If he can heal people that are sick, do exorcisms and these things that mark you as being a special person. These guys are walking around and they were the ones that spent time with Jesus, and they’re sharing this information, what’s right and what’s wrong. But, besides that, when they’re not there, the churches had what you call the creedal statements, or the statements of belief.
Bock: What I call schooling.
Ankerberg: Okay, tell me what that is and how do you know it.
Bock: Well, the schooling are these little short crisp concentrated pockets of doctrinal statement. They are doctrinal summaries. And they’re real short. Romans 1:2-4 talks about Jesus both being human and divine in the same sentence. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 talks about there being many gods and many lords in the world, but for us, for Christians, there’s one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ, equating the Father and the Son. You’ve got statements like 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrection, that talks about the bodily nature of the resurrection, the resurrection in three days.
Ankerberg: Quote it.
Bock: Well, that Christ died according to the Scriptures that he was buried, and on the third day he was raised according to the Scriptures. And then there’s a list of appearances that follows. [1 Cor. 15:3ff]
Ankerberg: And Paul says what I received I passed on to you…
Bock: …passed on to you. [1 Cor. 15:3]
Ankerberg: …so how far does this go back?
Bock: It goes, to use the words of that “great theologian” Chris Berman, it goes “back, back, back, back, back…” to the beginning. You know, what we’ve got here is that what Paul’s saying here is that the message that converted me in the middle 30s is the message that we’re still passing on to you as I write to you in the 50s. And so there is this message that we know was there from the very beginning. No one doubts, no one doubts that the disciples were absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. What they debate is what generated that experience.
Ankerberg: Alright, but the second thing besides these creedal statements, or doctrinal beliefs that were passed along, the fact is, you had the people singing.
Bock: That’s right. You have hymns in the New Testament. Two of the most famous of which are Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. Both of which are terrific summaries of the life and career of Jesus. In one case he empties himself, takes on the form of flesh and then God exalts him. That’s Philippians 2…
Ankerberg: Get me Philippians 2, the first verse there, in six.
Wallace: In verse six it says, “who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped.”
Ankerberg: Yeah. I’m just saying that doesn’t sound like our 7-11. Do you know what a 7-11 is? You’ve got 7 words, you sing it 11 times in our churches today.
Wallace: Is that another “Ankerbergism”?
Ankerberg: The thing is, when I read those hymns, you just take out those hymns and you say this is the kind of theology that was in their hymns, okay. And in Colossians, how does that start off?
Wallace: Colossians speaks about Jesus as the firstborn of God, the firstborn from the dead. The basic theme of Colossians 1:15-20 really focuses on two things, that he is the creator…
Ankerberg: He is the image of the invisible God.
Wallace: Exactly. And he is the redeemer, because we are saved by his blood.
Ankerberg: In both passages it talks about the blood of Christ and the fact of his saving work, okay. So you’ve got doctrinal teaching. You’ve got the hymns jibing with the same thing. These are both going back…
Bock: You’ve got schooling and singing. And remember when people are singing things they remember the words. That’s teaching taking place while worship is taking place.
Ankerberg: Alright. So this is happening inside the church. Besides that you’ve got the sacraments. You’ve got baptism and the Lord’s Supper, communion. Tell me the content that goes with that which comes right from Christ down.
Bock: Well, the content that you’re dealing with in the case of baptism is the picture of the washing and the new birth, which is this picture of the Spirit coming inside of someone that we talked about with reference to Pentecost. And then the Lord’s Table is a recreation of what the significance of Jesus’ death is. And so we have the body and the blood, the life of Jesus if you will, being given in order that the debt for sin can be paid, so that we can turn around now and offer forgiveness to people who sin but who have a debt to pay before God. And so the Lord’s Table, or the Last Supper, deals with that. So you’ve got very fundamental core central theology of Christianity in each of these three categories: in the schooling, in the singing and in the sacraments, that pull everything together and that say, this is orthodoxy. And what’s beautiful about this picture is, every one of those areas, all three of them, are something that happened every week in the service.
Wallace: Exactly.
Bock: So this is something that was happening on a regular basis. This is being reinforced. It’s like singing the refrain to a hymn over and over and over again so that you finally learn it. Like learning a Christmas hymn. I didn’t sit down and learn the words to Silent Night, and say “I’m going to memorize the four verses of Silent Night tonight.” No, I sat down and sang it and sang it and sang it. And finally I hear the music and I know the words.
Ankerberg: Alright. This stuff is all hanging together so far, and it’s in a very short period of time historically. And the fact is, what we’re going to talk about next week is we’ve got to add to this outline. And the fact is, we still haven’t gotten to the letters of the apostles. The living apostles start writing letters and books. We get the four Gospels, we get the rest of the New Testament, and I want to nail that down, when that happened. And then you also have, you have the students of the living apostles that start writing about what they heard from those apostles. And then those guys have students. And what I love is that the chain of information going down the line is consistent all the way up and down. You talk about historical roots and the links going back to Jesus, this knocks off, if people understand just what we have said, this knocks off so much of the information that’s coming from the media about Jesusanity vs. Christianity. Got a last word?
Bock: Yes, and it is that we aren’t blaming the media here. All the media is doing is reflecting the conversation that’s taking place in the public square, which is their job. But we find out about it through the media. And so what’s important is to understand the conversation and to be prepared to engage the conversation. That’s the take home on this, is that Christians have got to be prepared to have these conversations with people because people are thinking this is what Christianity is.
Ankerberg: Alright. Darrell and Dan have written this book, Dethroning Jesus, which talks about the ideas that are trying to push people from orthodox Christianity into this Jesusanity. And we’re going to talk more about these ideas as we go along. But next week we’re going to continue to fill out this outline of what are the basic things that we believe, what has come down to us. So I hope that you’ll join us.


Read Part 6

Leave a Comment