The Search for Jesus – Program 2

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
Where was Jesus actually born? Was he born of a virgin, or is that a myth? What was his childhood like?

The Birth of Jesus


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: Our search for the truth about Jesus took us away from the safety of Jerusalem into modern-day Bethlehem. Though at times the area is politically unstable and sometimes war torn, its inhabitants are of humble origins, much like Joseph and Mary were 2,000 years ago.
We’ve come to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity. This is the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Some scholars claim that Jesus wasn’t really born here and we wanted to get a second opinion. Others claim Matthew tells us Jesus was born in Bethlehem, while Luke implies he was born in Nazareth. Who is right?
Well, in the Gospel of Matthew, we are told, “…Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king.” [Matt. 2:1] Then, in the Gospel of Luke we read: “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was with child. And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth; and she gave birth to her firstborn Son.” [Luke 2:4-7] It seems both Matthew and Luke clearly state Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Dr. Darrell Bock: I think he was born in Bethlehem. In fact, again, let’s take the alternative. What evidence is there that he was born in Nazareth? And my response would be, “Silence.” There is none.
Dr. John Ankerberg: One scholar who disagrees is Marcus Borg, the founder of the Jesus Seminar. He thinks Jesus was born in Nazareth, since he is called “Jesus of Nazareth” in the Gospels.
Dr. Claire Pfann: Well, I think that that’s pretty much a silly observation. The fact that Jesus was called “Jesus of Nazareth” tells us less about where he was born than about where he came from as a young adult when he started his ministry. It tells us that he was known as Jesus of Nazareth because that’s where he lived during His adolescence. It doesn’t tell us where he was born. He was born in Bethlehem.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, it’s true that in order to tell the whole story of Christmas, it’s necessary to put the two accounts together. Matthew and Luke each present information about what happened. But because they supply additional facts that are different, should we conclude with the critics that they have given us two contradictory reports?
Dr. Darrell Bock: Well, the key combination is the idea “different equals contradictory.” And that’s not the only way to look at it. You can have different accounts of the same event and they can have differences in them and not be contradictory at all. I often joke with my kids that if you listen to my wife and I tell a story about the same event, we’re not going to pick the same details. Now, some of it will overlap and some of it will be different. And part of what she tells you is going to be part of the story and part of what I tell you is going to be part of the story, too. And actually, there’s great value in having those different accounts because they each penetrate the story at a different angle. And in that difference of penetration you get more insight into the character and into the event. And it’s not contradictory at all.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, Peter Jennings stated that much of the information we have from this part of the world does not support either Matthew or Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. Claire Pfann is an expert on Jewish birth practices and the culture of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus. We asked if she agreed with the critical scholars who say that the account of Jesus’ birth and early years presents a false picture of first century Jewish life.
Dr. Claire Pfann: I don’t agree. I don’t think that the Gospels present a false picture of Jewish life in the first century in the Holy Land. I think, if anything, Luke in particular endeavors to show us the norms of Jewish life.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Luke presents both John the Baptist and Jesus as children who are circumcised on the eighth day in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. Mary and Joseph are pictured as observant, pious Jews who bring Jesus up according to the Law of Moses and present him in the temple. Luke also tells us that as a family they went up to the great pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem such as the time of Passover.
Dr. Claire Pfann: And later in Jesus’ life, it’s reiterated time and again, that it was his practice to go to the synagogue on Shabbat, on the Sabbath, and that he was pious and observant of Jewish traditions. I think that we see an enormous amount of material that authentically reflects Jewish life in the first century in the Holy Land in the Gospels.
Dr. John Ankerberg: We also talked to respected Jewish archaeologist Dr. Magen Broshi, and asked if he thinks information from this part of the world supports what the Gospel writers say.
Dr. Magen Broshi: On certain things, they fit very well of what we know about the first century Palestine. They fit very well because they give us a good picture of what was happening here, and archaeology can prove it.
Dr. Craig Evans: Now, archaeology doesn’t prove that Jesus was really God’s Son. Source critical work and all that stuff doesn’t prove those things. But what it does is it shows that there is a historical foundation on which confessions of faith… or in the light of which, confessions of faith make perfectly good sense.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, some scholars assert that the accounts of Jesus’ virgin birth in the Gospels are similar to Greek and Roman mythologies. They point to the myth told about Caesar Augustus in which his mother was made pregnant by the Greek and Roman sun god, Apollo. Well, what about this?
Dr. Gary Habermas: Let’s take a mystery religion pattern or Hellenistic religion, a Hellenistic divine man pattern. These characters are not historical persons. They never lived in history. So what’s the grounds for comparison? And I love the words of Plutarch, who, in his famous story of Isis and Osiris, says, “Now, listen, don’t you guys think that this is a historical account. I’m telling you a story here!” And he says that twice. So, I think that’s important that there’s a contrast.
Dr. Darrell Bock: I think when I compare the virgin birth and its simplicity, you know: God comes to Mary and says, you’re going to have a child, and basically does it, and there are no – to use the Jennings example – there are no snakes that have to appear in the night to impregnate the woman. It’s done just by the verbal command. See, it’s the simplicity of the way in which the miraculous is displayed in the Bible.
Dr. N. T. Wright: Matthew and Luke both, I’m sure, knew that out there in the wider pagan world there were people who told stories about Alexander the Great being conceived when his mother was a virgin; about Augustus similarly, about various heroes and demigods. And since Matthew and Luke both want to talk about Jesus as the fulfillment of Judaism, which didn’t have stories like that, this is really kind of a dangerous thing… dangerous ground for them to be getting into. And so I ask myself as a historian, Why would they do that, particularly when the obvious sneering retort to such a report is: “Well, we know Mary was just sleeping around with Roman soldiers” or whatever, which is precisely what some of the enemies of Christianity went on to say. So it seems to me that Matthew and Luke would not have included those stories unless they really believed that something very strange like this had happened.
Dr. John Ankerberg: While questioning the accuracy of the Gospel writers, Peter Jennings implied Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus could not be historical since the question remained, “Why would Joseph ever bring Mary on such a difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, through the desert, especially when she was very, very pregnant?”
Dr. Claire Pfann: Well, there are just so many things wrong with that question, aren’t there? Starting off, of course, with the fact that maybe she wasn’t “very, very pregnant” at the time they made the journey. We pointed out in Luke 2 that it doesn’t say that she was in labor when she was traveling to Bethlehem, it says while she was in Bethlehem she went into labor: “The time came for her to be delivered,” [Luke 2:6] number one. Number two: it’s not that dangerous of a journey to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and we see that probably the practice was to travel in groups of people. It would be a three or four day journey. They would camp out under the stars. They would bring food with them. And there were not bandits on every side waiting to attack every traveler. So I think that we find a few basic presuppositions that are just our own modern skepticism and really don’t deal with the reality of the fact that, if Joseph and Mary had come to live together as a married couple at this point, why on earth would he leave her at home when he faced a prolonged absence, waiting for the census to be accomplished?
Dr. John Ankerberg: The big question for many people is, can we accept the miracle of the virgin birth? We will talk more about miracles later, but for now, here’s how an internationally respected historian who taught at Oxford approaches this question.
Dr. N. T. Wright: Now, of course, I cannot prove the virginal conception of Jesus, and I don’t think you can prove it in the same way as I would prove the resurrection – that you can’t explain the rise of early Christianity without it. That forces me to hold my modern mind open to say, If God was really in Christ reconciling the world to himself, ought I not to expect some other strange things as well? And when I then have these stories which look so strange and yet, Why would they do that? – maybe it really did happen. Because you see, as far as I know, nobody in Judaism was going around and saying, “Ah ha! Isaiah 7:14 – Messiah must be born of a virgin.” I don’t know that anyone was taking that text like that before. So it’s not that Matthew had that text in mind and had to pin it on Jesus. I suspect that Matthew would have been quite happy not to mention that. But it’s rather the case that he’s got this story and he wants to find something in the Old Testament to go with it. And likewise, Luke, it’s not the case that he has stories about angels and shepherds which he’s wanting to pin on Jesus; rather, this is the stuff that he’s got to work with.
Dr. John Ankerberg: After Jesus was born, the Gospel accounts state that he grew up in the small town of Nazareth. Yet, what do we know about his childhood and his relationship to his parents, Joseph and Mary?
Dr. Claire Pfann: When he was 12 years old and he went down to the temple, Luke tells us this wonderful story. He sat in the temple and he talked with the elders and the rabbis and the Pharisees, and they recognized that this child was extremely gifted, that this is the kind of kid who should be signed up to study in an academy, and really learn how to do the law. But, of course, Jesus’ earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, said, “No way! You’re coming home with us. You’re living in this little town of Nazareth. You’re going to learn a trade and you’re going to help out with the family.” And Jesus, in obedience, did that. He traded the classroom of the rabbinic academies for the classroom of Nazareth. And there he saw shepherds with sheep, farmers in their field, fathers with their children, and as he watched these events of natural life, he reflected on how they expressed principles of the kingdom of God, how they reflected the nature of God as a father. And when God then sent him out as Messiah following his baptism, he was ready to talk to the every day people in language that they understood about the character of God. They didn’t speak the language of the academies; they didn’t speak the language of the great Halakah or the oral tradition. They understood what it meant for a woman to lose a coin, or what it meant for a father to forgive a child who had rebelled. And they could understand and accept the love of the Father, expressed through Jesus’ teaching and parables.
Dr. John Ankerberg: While growing up in Nazareth, Jesus could see a city called Sepphoris, the capital of Herod Antipas, only four miles away. He and his father Joseph might have been hired to do carpentry work there. Jesus knew his fellow Jews were being heavily taxed by the Romans, and he could see the stark contrast between the rich and the poor. Some scholars speculate that these early experiences led Jesus to become a political revolutionary or a “cynic sage.”
Dr. Ben Witherington: The fact that Nazareth was next door to Sepphoris where lots of archaeological digs have taken place recently and revealed a lot of interesting stuff, it is a question that we need to come to grips with. How much is proximity an issue in determining who a person is? I mean, I can go to Brooklyn and find Hasidic Jews living next door to Buddhists who are from the Far East. They live in close proximity to each other – but so what? It hasn’t affected their belief systems very much at all. The fact that Jesus is a carpenter from Nazareth does not imply that he is a Greco-Roman person from Sepphoris. Nor does it imply that he is a revolutionary like some of those folks from Gamala. You can have different kinds of persons all living together or in close proximity. The belief system is something else.
Dr. Darrell Bock: He clearly had a concern for people who were on the margins of society and who had been excluded. But, you know, Rome wasn’t the big enemy. The bigger enemy were the spiritual forces working inside of people and through people and, if you will, behind people, that caused people to take advantage of one another. And, in many ways his message tried to touch that battle and that kingdom, if you will, and the Romans were just almost a side show.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Scholars believe Jesus’ public ministry may have been as short as one year and no longer than three or four years. If that’s true, what did Jesus say in such a short period of time that would so drastically change the world? We will look at that next.

Read Part 3

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