The Battle to Dethrone Jesus/Program 3

By: Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace; ©2007
How much of the Gospel account about Jesus can we really trust? Isn’t it true that they were written long after Jesus lived and were embellished to present an inaccurate picture of Jesus?



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.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We have got a great one today. And you know that Marcus Borg at the Jesus Seminar has made some statements about Christianity that I think that you are concerned about. And the question is, how do you meet this statement? Marcus Borg, he has a buddy called Robert W. Funk, and he is also in the Jesus Seminar. And Funk says in his book, “The Gospels are now assumed to be narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements that express the church’s faith in him.” Now, what they are saying is what, Darrell?
Bock: Well, what they are saying is that the claims that Jesus makes are so exalted and so unbelievable that they are the claims that his followers made for him and are not claims that Jesus himself made. And, frankly, if you don’t think that God is active and can do special things, you are kind of forced to that position because of the content of what we have in the New Testament. We have to be able to explain how it is that the disciples came to have this view of Jesus. If Jesus didn’t have this view of himself, what would have driven them to do this? And I think sometimes that is a question that is not asked. And it’s worth pondering.
Ankerberg: Alright, Darrell should know, because he’s one of the great historical Jesus scholars in our world. He is used by all of the networks in their television specials. He has written a bunch of books including Dethroning Jesus, with his compatriot next to him, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, who is one of the greatest textual critics we have alive in the world today. And so they are answering these questions.
And what we have been doing in the last couple of weeks is we have been saying, how do we meet the criticisms? How do we meet the challenges that are coming from folks that are talking about a Jesusanity, where Jesus is a special person, he is just not God, doesn’t forgive anybody’s sins, doesn’t do miracles; versus Christianity, where he claims to be God and he does come and pay for our sins, and he does offer us eternal life. Well, he can transform us and purify us. So we have got these opinions that are out there, or these stories of Jesus, and we are saying that the factual, historical roots go back to Christianity not Jesusanity.
But in order to prove that, we are trying to fill out this outline. And we started a few weeks ago with, the fact is, Jesus really lived; picked out 12 apostles, everybody agrees on that. And the fact is, Jesus dies, and we believe that he rose from the dead, but the fact is, that everybody believes that at least he dies. Fifty days after the time that he is put into the tomb there is an event called Pentecost, a Jewish celebration, where the 12 apostles stand up in front of the very city that had watched him murdered and they preach a message and 3,000 Jews convert. Out of that crowd that converted, you have people going out across the Roman Empire, founding churches to 15 different people groups, alright? And what did they base it on? The message of the apostles that they heard at Pentecost.
Now, in between the time of Pentecost and when they started those churches you had the living apostles walking around. “Peter, come on over for a cup of coffee. I have got a question for you.” They could tell you what was orthodox, what was not orthodox, because they had been with Jesus.
And then you have the core elements, the traditional teaching that comes in creedal statements. You have got the singing, the hymns, that are just loaded with theology. And you have got the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But then the apostle’s letters start to come out. We said they came out, you know, pretty early; in the 40s. If Jesus died in the 30s, the fact is, that is 10-15 years down the pike. That is a pretty short period of time. And then they start to die off in the 60s-70s, and John probably up there close to 100, but they’re all dead by 100.
The information that they gave to us is what we are centering on now. And that is that they claimed, when they spoke orally, to be communicating the word of God. And then when they wrote their books, these letters, the community believed what they were saying, that these were Scripture. They believed, I am not arguing for inerrancy right now, what I am just saying is the Christian community at that time said this stuff is special, and they collected it. And the special stuff was all done by the time we got to 100 AD.
Now, one of the ways you can find that out is that the apostles had students, okay? And now you came to, say, Clement of Rome, who is around 95 AD. And you have got Polycarp who is the student of John. And you have got Ignatius, and you have got Papias, and then a little later on you’ve got Irenaeus. And then you start going down this list of the students of the students. But what I want to focus on and where I need your help, Darrell, is the fact is, what did some of the students say about the writings of the apostles and who wrote it and how it came down?
Bock: Well, very early on, in fact, in the very first writings we have from this outside the apostolic period, we get the recognition that that period was unique, and that there is something going on uniquely in that period that the church is related to and that builds around. So, for example, we get Clement of Rome writing in his epistle of First Clement chapter 42, “The apostles received the gospels for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God and the apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came from the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went forth with the glad tidings that the Kingdom of God should come. So, preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits when they had proved them by the Spirit to be Bishops and Deacons unto them that should believe.”
So we have got Christ; we have got the apostles who represent the message of Christ; we have got them preaching around the world; we have got them planting and leaving churches and leaving Bishops and Deacons in charge. That’s what that quote is saying. But there is a recognition that there is something special happening with the apostles, and that we don’t have more apostles, you know. We don’t have more apostles after the apostles die, in this technical sense of the term. That is a unique group because of their direct exposure to Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: And what is interesting, Dan, is the fact is that you have Clement being appointed by Peter. Wasn’t he appointed by Peter to be the Bishop at Rome?
Wallace: Yes.
Ankerberg: So here you have got again another student of a living apostle making that kind of a statement which is, you know, in terms of historical literature this is pretty solid stuff.
Wallace: Exactly. In fact, there has been a good deal of evidence that when Eusebius is beginning to think about the canon, what he does is he goes back through the annals of all the records he has got. And he can trace what is called the homologoumena, that is, the books, the core books – and I know we will get to this in another program – but the core books that everyone has accepted by the end of the 2nd century. Twenty books at least that they say, we know these go back to the apostles. And Eusebius went and traced it through the major churches of the Mediterranean world from Bishop back to Bishop back to Bishop back to Bishop back to the apostles.
Ankerberg: Alright, give me another quote from, say, Polycarp. And here is a student of the apostle John, okay?
Bock: This is a student from the apostle John. And this is, well, actually it is Irenaeus, who is a student of Polycarp, is where this quote is from. It is written in Against Heresy, 311. And this gives an outline of the Gospels, of the tradition about where the Gospels come from. “Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews [that is the Jews], in their own tongue when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure [which is an illusion to their death during the Neronian persecution sometime in the 60s, okay, after their departure, that is, their death], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his gospel while living at Ephesus in Asia.”
And so there we have the four gospels. We have got two apostolic evangelists, if you will, Matthew and John. We’ve got Mark, who is tied very closely to Peter. And we’ve got Luke, tied very closely to Paul. Of course, sometimes this is challenged. Some people will say, well, Luke isn’t really written by Paul. They just picked someone and then associated him with Paul. But here is the problem with a suggestion like that. It is, think of all the companions that Paul had that could have been an associate authors of a work like Luke/Acts, okay? You have Timothy, you have Titus, you have Barnabas, you have Silas. It’s a long list of potential candidates. I want to pick a follower of Paul to write this book so we can have apostolic association with it. Lots of candidates, one small problem: in the tradition of the church, the tradition of the church is consistent that it is Luke. And what’s interesting about Luke is that Luke actually is not among the more prominent of those associates of Paul. He is a fringe Pauline figure in comparison to the people I just named. And so if you were grabbing out of a hat – you get to make the rules – and pick a name, you would not pick the name of Luke. So the problem is, how does Luke get so closely attached to Paul in tradition unless Luke belongs there? That’s the point.
Ankerberg: What is the significance of having the student say, “this is what the apostles told me,” or “this is what we know,” so close to all this material?
Bock: Well, what it does is it puts us in line kind of with the oral conversation that is going on in the church about where these materials came from. And there are some interesting features in here. For example, there is the reference to the idea that Matthew originally wrote to the Jews in his own tongue and his own dialect; that there is a Jewish version of Matthew, if you will.
Wallace: But the earliest sources don’t say that he wrote a Gospel in Hebrew…
Bock: That’s right.
Wallace: …it’s just that he wrote something in Hebrew….
Bock: It’s just that he wrote something in relationship to…
Wallace: …the Sayings of Jesus or the Logia Jesu.
Bock: My point is that whatever that is, we may or may not have it. I mean, we may have the remnants of it, but we may or may not have what they were talking about there. But the point here is that the church is coming along, and they are rooting this material in the apostles or those who follow the apostle. Now again, let’s assume you are making the rules, you get to make the rules. That’s Jesusanity’s take is, the church is making the rules as it’s going along, they are doing theology on the fly, okay? And so they come along and they say, “Well, we are not just going to have four gospels that are written by apostles or associates of the apostles. We are going to have four gospels, they should be written by apostles.” So it seems to me if you are making up the rules and you are really trying to make it an apologetic, you know, to be untouchable, you would pick four apostles to write the gospels, not two apostles and then two who are associated with the apostles.
Wallace: And one of those associates is an associate with an apostle who is not one of the eyewitnesses. In other words, Paul was added later.
Bock: Exactly right.
Wallace: So Luke is two steps removed in that respect, plus what you have noted already that he is a minor player with …..
Bock: And there is another inconsistency here that should be noted. Some people will argue that Mark reflects the gospel of Paul, and they pit the disciples against one another in this portrait. Matthew and Peter and James are on one side in Christianity – they are more Jewish. And Paul and Mark are on the other side of Christianity – they are more oriented towards Gentiles. And so Mark is associated with Paul in this model. And yet the tradition doesn’t associate him with Paul, the tradition associates Mark with Peter, okay? Apparently Mark is a member of both the Democratic and Republican parties at the same time. And so there are inconsistencies here in the way Jesusanity portrays some of these relationships.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and also this intramural fighting. The fact is, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says, whether it was we or they, the fact is, we were all on the same page talking about the same stuff. [1 Cor. 15:11]
Bock: That is exactly right. This portrait of Christianity kind of being at odds within itself is exaggerated by those who argue for Jesusanity. They have to do it. They have to bust up the Bible. If they can bust up the Bible as an historical document, then they have got room to posit all this other stuff about where Christianity is and the time. But if that Bible belongs together and those figures are connected to one another, then you can’t go there. I am reminded whenever I go to Rome or some of the places in Europe, how many paintings there are where you get Peter and Paul next to one another in one form or another. You know, you can walk into the church of St. Paul and you see Peter and Paul next to one another. You see mosaics of Peter and Paul next to one another. You walk into St. Peter’s Square, you’ve got a statue of Peter and you’ve got a statue of Paul. The church is saying something about the relationship of these figures to one another, and it is something that has been believed from the earliest days of Christianity.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I think we have got, again, to say that the fact is, by 100 all of this apostolic testimony is written, okay? And the students of the apostles recognized it and basically said it, and it made a big difference between their teaching and this apostolic writing that they had. Now, it took a while for the church to understand what God had given them, what they actually were left. But they eventually did it, and it came back to the same criteria: was it apostolic, or were the guys companions of the apostles? Is this the real stuff, alright? Now, when we come back we are going to find out, okay, when did the Gnostic Gospels get written, okay? And then we want to get down to what are the mind-blowing statements that you guys have found when you look at this apostolic testimony that Jesus made, that they heard him make, okay? About being the son of God, about being the Messiah. These mind-blowing statements. What are they that have stood out to you, and that if anybody wants to open up their Bible, you can find them, alright? We are going to talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back. And we are talking with Dr. Darrell Bock, who is a leader and a scholar on the historical Jesus; and Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, who is one of the textual critics in the world today, an authority on the Greek copies of our New Testament manuscripts. And it is just incredible that you guys are here. It is a privilege to talk with you. We want to follow up where we left off. The fact is, you have Jesus, the apostles, you have Pentecost, you have the church that is being founded, you have got the letters and the books coming out, you have got the students of the apostles saying this was the stuff that we considered authoritative. And then we have got to get the idea, when did the Gnostic Gospels come out, these lost Christianities that there is such a big to do about?
Bock: Well, they start to merge in the latter part of the 1st century, the early part of the 2nd century. What really marks a work as Gnostic is a kind of story of creation that is different than what we get out of the Old Testament, and different out of what Christianity would have inherited from Judaism. And that story basically is that the world is a dualistic world. There is matter which is evil; there is the idea of the spirit world which is good. And because God can’t be associated with anything that is evil, God isn’t directly responsible for that creation. There are emanations from the true God who tried to create after his likeness and botched the job. And so the creation is a fallen creation from the beginning. Contrast that with the Jewish belief reflected in Genesis 1, but in several other passages of the Old Testament as well, that when God created, it was good. It was good at the beginning, and the fall is a product of something subsequent to the creation. So, immediately you would be running into this problem.
Ankerberg: You have got material that the core beliefs of this material would be rejected by anybody that was a Christian that held to this other material.
Bock: And what’s more, what’s as important as that idea is the idea that the material that the Christians are holding to as orthodoxy about creation reflected the Judaism out of which Christianity sprung. Whereas this Gnostic teaching about creation doesn’t have roots that go back into that kind of teaching. It has Jewish ideas, it has Jewish characters, but it doesn’t have this Jewish belief that the creation at the start was good. And so that would immediately send a signal to someone hearing this, this is different. Now, it was “Christian;” whether to call it Gnostic Christianity or Christian Gnosticism we could discuss.
Wallace: Make sure you put the “Christian” in quotes.
Bock: That’s right. But it was Christian in the sense that you have got symbols that are appealing to Christian ideas, but those symbols are being reframed and redrawn in light of a philosophy, what is called neo-Platonism or middle-Platonism, that’s redefining this to try to make Christianity more culturally palatable.
Wallace: What we looked at earlier with these hymns, where Jesus is viewed as creator in Colossians 1, Philippians 2, is reflecting on Exodus 20 where you do not bow down to anyone except God. And yet he is the God who is over the sea, he is over the heavens, over the earth. And you have that same kind of imagery in Philippians 2. And yet we are to bow down to Jesus, who is this one who is called Lord.
Ankerberg: When did this material come out, the Gnostic material?
Bock: The Gnostic material as a coherent system appears to have emerged in the early part of the 2nd century.
Ankerberg: Okay, so that’s a long way from the material coming out about Jesus that the Christian church has.
Bock: That is exactly right.
Wallace: So you have this image of Christ as creator that is already imbedded in these earliest Christian hymns. The Gnostic stuff cannot compete with that. And the way that they try to compete with it is, really they have two methods. First they attach the name of an apostle or an important figure like Mary or Philip or Thomas or Judas or someone like that. But Judas, they put a spin on it to make it work, because he was not respected by others; for good reason, too. But the other thing that they do is that their gospels are essentially non-narrative. And this picks up on this whole dualism of matter being evil and spirit being good. By having a non-narrative gospel, now you have something that doesn’t really relate to the world, and it cannot be historically verified. And that, I think, is a crucial difference between what you have in the Gnostic materials and what you have in the New Testament Gospels. The New Testament subjects itself to historical investigation and is therefore vulnerable to history, whereas Gnosticism is not.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I think we have got to make clear, there is a tricky claim going on in the Jesus specials and some of the Jesusanity books that are coming out. And that is, again, this difference between the earliest documents and early documents. And a lot of our Christians don’t pick that up, and the students don’t pick it up either. But drive that in.
Bock: Well, what is going on here with this material, I mean, another way in which the Gnostic gospels try to trump Christianity is they have many scenes that Jesus gives purportedly after his resurrection. So it is kind of the latest Jesus. And it’s the Jesus after his earthly ministry when he is telling the rest of the story, the mysteries that they need to know. Well, this is a discussion that is going on in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries. These groups are springing up, they are drawing some followers. They are drawing enough concern that the church fathers, who reflect orthodoxy in this period, are writing about them and are alarmed about them, etc. That is going on in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries.
Well, what you often get in the specials is, early Christianity had alternative Christianities. And so they are saying there were discussions going on in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries and again sometimes projected back into the 1st. But what we don’t have are actual documents from the 1st century reflecting these views, okay? The only views that we have in the 1st century come from traditional sources. Now, the claim is that this material has been suppressed and so we don’t have it. But we don’t even see it reflected in the documents we do have, where there are arguments going on between some of the writers of the apostles and people who are believing other things that they are contending against. We don’t get this developed story of creation in any of those writings. And so what is called Gnosticism in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century is basically invisible in the 1st century, and has to be posited or projected back, almost like an anachronism into the 1st century in order for the explanation of alternative Christianities to really work in the way the alternative Christian people or the Jesusantians want to argue it.
Ankerberg: Alright.
Wallace: If I could add this, too. It is not just the fact that we don’t have these documents from the 1st century. We also don’t have patristic writers from the early 2nd century who are commenting on them, because they don’t exist yet. It starts getting into the second half of the 2nd century where you really get patristic writers, especially Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others like that, who are now saying these are the bad documents; this is not the official Christianity; this is not the Christianity that goes back to the apostles.
Bock: You start to get some hints of it in about the 120-130 period, but you get full tomes in the second part of the 2nd century.
Ankerberg: Alright, so the best historical evidence comes from the earliest documents about a movement or a person.
Bock: Rumor would have it that’s what would take place.
Ankerberg: And the fact is, that is the 27 books we have in the New Testament. Now, next week what we are going to go to is, a couple of things that stand out about Jesus that are different from any other world religion is, Christianity says he claimed to be God and then he proved that claim by rising from the dead. Let’s not take the Bible, or the New Testament books in the sense that they are inspired and inerrant, we are still going to take that in the textual criticism part of this deal, but let’s take this for the non-Christian that says “I want to look at the evidence. Does Jesus make any noises that make him sound special from his own lips?”
Bock: And I think it is important to see how that argument is constructed; the steps that go into it, not just simply to go to the conclusion, but to go to the steps that it works through.
Ankerberg: We are going to get all those steps and we are going to get to what I call your favorite statements that you found in the manuscripts that anybody can look up in their Bible. And then the claims. And then we are going to get down to, we have got another kind of broadside coming against the Christian churches. How do we know that the scribes didn’t tamper with the texts? And we have got so many variants in the copies that have come down, which is your back yard. So please stick with us. This is crucial information in talking to the people in our society today, about Jesusanity vs. Christianity.

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