The Search for Jesus – Program 1

By: Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Dr. Craig Blomberg, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, Dr. Magen Broshi, Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Hillel Geva, Dr. Gary Habermas, Mrs. Claire Pfann, Dr. Stephen Pfann, Dr. Ben Witherington, Dr. N.T. Wright; ©2001
Who is Jesus really? Is he more than an ordinary man? Could he actually be the son of the living God? Is the Jesus of history different from the Jesus of faith?

“Whom Do Men Say That I Am?”


Announcer: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Whom do people say the Son of Man is?” [Matt. 16:13]
Dr. Craig Evans: If I were a secular historian and looking at what Jesus is saying, I’d say this guy clearly thinks that he’s some kind of emissary from Heaven.
Announcer: They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [Matt. 16:14]
Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: There are also many implicit indications that Jesus was more than an ordinary human being.
Announcer: “What about you?” He asked, “Whom do you say that I am?” [Matt. 16:15]
Dr. Darrell Bock: I think that the voice addressed Jesus: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” [Luke 3:22]
Announcer: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [Matt. 16:16]
Today, Jesus’ question continues to challenge historians and theologians, believers and unbelievers, alike. Some still acclaim him as the Messiah, the Son of God, as did his followers in the first century. Others declare that Jesus never said or did most of what is recorded about him in the Gospels. Still, the search for Jesus continues.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome. I’m John Ankerberg. And we’ve traveled to three continents to ask historians and archaeologists, “Is the Jesus of history the same as the Jesus of the Christian faith?” What can we really know about him? Recently these questions captured the attention of ABC, resulting in a two-hour program entitled, “The Search for Jesus.” It was hosted by Peter Jennings. After it aired, we became aware that many scholars wanted to give a second opinion about what was said. You know about second opinions. If your doctor diagnoses you with a serious illness, and you question his diagnosis, you would not hesitate to ask for a second opinion. Well, many of the conclusions given about Jesus in the ABC Special didn’t seem to ring true, and so we decided to check with 13 other doctors and ask them for a second opinion. We even talked to a few of the same scholars ABC did, just to make sure we were hearing them correctly.
One such scholar was Dr. N. T. Wright, who taught at Oxford University in England for 22 years. He is presently canon theologian of Westminster Abbey, and is respected as one of the foremost historical Jesus scholars in the world today. I asked him who he thought Jesus really was.
Dr. N. T. Wright: So, who was Jesus? Jesus was a prophet announcing the kingdom of God, a first century Jewish Palestinian, announcing that God was now becoming King. Jesus believed that he was the One who was bringing that kingdom in himself, that he was Israel’s Messiah. He believed that he had to do this through his own suffering and death and obedience to a vocation shaped by Israel’s Scriptures. And he believed that in being and in doing all of this, he was the very embodiment of Israel’s God come to redeem his people.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, Dr. Wright’s conclusions were not what most people came away with after watching the ABC Special about Jesus. Why? You may have picked up a newspaper and read the opinions of a group of scholars referred to as the Jesus Seminar. Well, many people assume that the opinions of this group represent what most scholars think about Jesus. We decided to ask scholars in Canada, America, Europe and here in Israel how they evaluated the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar, and what they said might surprise you.
Dr. Craig Evans: The opinion is not very good, to put it mildly. Continental scholarship, they either haven’t heard of the Jesus Seminar or if they have, they dismiss it derisively. British scholarship, it’s just the same way: “The Jesus Seminar! Oh, you must be kidding. Does anybody take them seriously?” That’s the European response. I’ve seen that firsthand.
Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: Peter Jennings and others who investigate these matters should be aware that there is a wide spectrum of scholarly opinions and the Jesus Seminar represents a rather radical approach to the Gospels.
Dr. Amy-Jill Levine: Both on the professional level and indeed people out in the churches, the Jesus Seminar model of a cynic, sage, a Mediterranean peasant has really not caught on.
Dr. N. T. Wright: My guess is that most British, French, German, Belgian scholars today, if they have heard of the Jesus Seminar, would simply say, “Well, I’m afraid that’s some funny people in America and we’re carrying on with our scholarship and we’re not going to bother about that.”
Dr. John Ankerberg: What about in scholarly circles in our own country? Do they lead the way?
Dr. Craig Evans: No, they do not. They try to be influential and they’ve had positions of leadership at the Society of Biblical Literature. I’m an active member of the Historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature. Three to four hundred show up typically at their meetings. That’s about ten times what typically show up at a Jesus Seminar meeting. And the Jesus Seminar guys, when they present their distinctive views like a non-eschatological Jesus or the gospel of Peter as a primary source for the other gospels, those views are simply – to put it with slang – blown out of the water.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, besides featuring the unsupported ideas of the Jesus Seminar, ABC also went to people on the streets in Bethlehem and Nazareth and asked them what they thought about Jesus. We discovered scholars weren’t impressed with this approach either.
Dr. Craig Evans: Well, that might be cute for television, but it’s of no probative value. It has no value whatsoever.
Mrs. Claire Pfann: I would say the ABC Special chose to begin from a skeptical view and chose to actually start with man-on-the-street interviews, which any credible scholar would have to laugh at. Why would we expect, for example, someone walking the streets of San Francisco today to be able to talk with any kind of knowledge about the Gold Rush in California in 1848 or someone walking the streets of Ireland to be able to talk with any type of credibility about the Great Potato Famine? These people are not the people who have spent their lives researching and exploring the issues.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, if someone wants to discover what Jesus really said and did here in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago, what historical evidence can they turn to? Well, as Peter Jennings pointed out, all scholars turn to the earliest books written about Jesus, and that’s the four Gospels. And right here, the debate about Jesus begins. What kind of books are the Gospels? Can we trust them?
Dr. Craig Evans: Well, where you begin, you begin with your oldest sources, your oldest and most reliable sources. And, we’ve got them. We have four gospels in the New Testament.
Dr. Claire Pfann: And if we want to deal with the historicity of Jesus, then we have to immerse ourselves into the tools that are there for examining that. That includes the Gospels, the literary texts; it includes extra-biblical material as well; writings of other Jewish authors like Josephus. It includes archaeology and a study of biblical languages like Hebrew and Greek.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, some scholars claim that the writers of the four Gospels were passionately-biased followers of Jesus; therefore, it is doubtful that they accurately reported what happened.
Dr. Craig Blomberg: In the ancient world nobody had yet invented the notion of objective, dispassionate chronicling of history simply for history’s sake. They wouldn’t bother to retell the story to somebody if they didn’t feel there was something that could be learned from it.
Dr. Darrell Bock: You can have history and theology together. Just think of the word “perspective” instead of “theology.” What the Gospels give us is the perspective of the disciples and those who believe Jesus in terms of what he did and said. And granted, they have a bias, if you want to use that word. They have a prejudice. They are believers, there’s no doubt about it. But they are trying to convince the reader: This is who Jesus was, this is what he did, and, in fact, this is who He is, as well, in the process.
Dr. Craig Blomberg: Simply because somebody believes passionately on a subject they tell about doesn’t by any necessarily mean that they’ll distort the facts. Sometimes the reverse is the case. A great modern day example are many Jewish historians of the Nazi holocaust, who have been passionately committed to never seeing such an atrocity reduplicated. And for that very reason, they have very carefully and accurately chronicled the horrors in a way that the so-called revisionist historians, mostly Gentile, trying to downplay the atrocities, have not done so.
Dr. Craig Evans: And so just because the New Testament Gospel writers have a theological interest and that’s what drives them to tell the story of Jesus in the first place, that doesn’t disqualify their writing. It doesn’t make it suddenly unhistorical or of no value.
Dr. John Ankerberg: What would you say to a person who’s really skeptical and says that Matthew didn’t write Matthew; Mark didn’t write Mark; Luke didn’t write Luke; and John didn’t write John?
Dr. Craig Blomberg: The sum total of the evidence that we have from the early Church Fathers is that the four men, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that the New Testament is typically ascribed to, two of them apostles – Matthew and John, two of them companions of apostles – Mark and Luke, are in fact the people who wrote the stories about Jesus.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Peter Jennings said in the special, “It is pretty much agreed among scholars that the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses.” What would you say to that?
Dr. Craig Evans: Well, two of the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses. But, that does not mean that they did not know eyewitnesses. Two of the other Gospel writers may very well have been, and that’s Matthew and John. So, again, Jennings’ statement reflects what I think is a hypercritical stand that’s entertained by some scholars, but not by all.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Another statement that he made was, “In fact, the Gospels were probably written 40 to 100 years after Jesus’ death.” Where would you place them?
Dr. Craig Evans: 40 to 100 years. That’s way too far. I would put more like 35 to 50 years after Jesus’ death.
Dr. John Ankerberg: And if they are 35 to 50 years after Jesus’ death, if he died in 30 AD and they’re on the newsstands at 60 AD up to, say, 85 AD, what does that tell you about the content of those books?
Dr. Craig Evans: Well, the books are written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses, written within the lifetime of people who knew what Jesus said and did.
Dr. John Ankerberg: We heard this over and over again from scholars: If the majority of New Testament books were written 35 to 50 years after Jesus died, then they came out when eyewitnesses of those events were still alive. It indicates the accounts must have been accurate, or they would have been rejected by both sides, those who loved Jesus and those who hated him.
Dr. Craig Blomberg: And it wasn’t just Christians who checked up on what was being said, there were plenty of still hostile eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus for the next generation, particularly in Israel, who, if the first apostles had gone around saying anything substantially different from what others knew Jesus did and taught, would have been very happy to intervene and to correct, and to, perhaps, snuff out this movement.
Dr. John Ankerberg: We spoke about the historical accuracy of these books with respected Jewish archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay, who recently was awarded the prize for archaeology in Israel. [I asked] As an archeologist do you think that the writers of the New Testament anchored their stories in real historical events, real historical things that you’ve discovered in the past?
Dr. Gabriel Barkay: Yes, I do. I think that much of the evidence of the gospels mirrors a reality of 1st century of the common era.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Then, we also talked to Dr. Magen Broshi, former curator of the Shrine of the Book, Israel’s museum containing the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is a world-renowned archaeologist and scholar, having excavated the most recent discoveries of caves at Qumran.
Dr. Magen Broshi: I mean, the setting is absolutely accurate. Absolutely accurate. The geography is accurate. The mode of living, I mean, they couldn’t have invented it, and they didn’t have any need to invent anything.
Dr. Craig Evans: We can actually go to the place. It’s a real place. It isn’t some fairy-tale land somewhere. It isn’t King Arthur and his round table. We can actually go some place and say, “This is where it all happened. In fact, look. We’ve actually dug up the very pavement where he walked.” Things like that can be found.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Respected Jewish archaeologist Dr. Hillel Geva has worked on some of the most important archaeological excavations in Jerusalem since 1967. He is editor of the leading Hebrew journal on biblical archaeology in Israel.
Dr. Hillel Geva: The New Testament is a very authentic, historical book. I mean, no doubt there is history in it: real history and authentic history in the book.
Dr. Magen Broshi: So this is, as I say, a time when there was still quite a number of eyewitnesses, of people that knew about the events first hand, and there is absolutely no fiction there. They are not historical novellas. They are as far as accurate as they could have done.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Archaeologists have confirmed that Luke was so accurate that he cited facts about 32 countries, 54 cities, 9 islands, several rulers, and he never made one mistake.
Now, if the four Gospels are anchored in history, what about the birth of Jesus? At Christmas, Christians around the world look to Bethlehem as the place where he was born. But during the ABC Special, some scholars cast doubt as to whether Jesus was ever born there. So next, we will travel to Bethlehem to investigate this question.

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