Historical Jesus: A Recent Movement to Reinterpret the New Testament Record
The search for the “Historical Jesus” is a rather recent undertaking of so-called scholars and realists, who look to dissect the Biblical record and paint a real picture of the man, Jesus. For about the last 100 years, including most recently, the Jesus Seminar, intellectual debate has made its way into the mainstream media based on the supposed goal of “separating historical fact from mythology.” The problem is that the entire “Historical Jesus” movement is a product of the 20th Century philosophy of naturalism, in that all debate begins with a shared, yet concealed, presupposition – that anything outside the realm of natural explanation can never be backed by historical evidence. In a nutshell, the movement holds that it's impossible for the Gospel accounts of Jesus to be historically accurate, because they record things that simply can't happen, like people walking on water, food multiplying, and people being raised from the dead. Of course, this is not scholarly evaluation of the historical evidence or Biblical manuscripts – this is strict adherence to the philosophy of naturalism.
Historical Jesus: The Unchanging Reality of the New Testament Record
When examined, the “Historical Jesus” movement of the last 100 years has unearthed nothing that undermines the Gospel accounts. There is no "new evidence" supporting the idea that Jesus was merely a “good man.” There is no “new evidence” debunking the accounts of miracles and the resurrection based on new analysis of “myth theory” over a long period of time. To the contrary, recent discoveries have given more credibility to the nature and content of the New Testament record than ever before. Actually, except for the propagated view of the mainstream media, the trend in the last two decades has been for liberal scholars to become more conservative in their views on the reliability of the New Testament record, not less. Recent finds in archaeology are showing more (not less) consistent detail of the time, culture, religion and politics at the time Jesus walked the earth. At the same time, Biblical manuscript credibility has taken great leaps forward (not backward). Do these things prove the miracles or resurrection of Jesus? No. However, when these things are combined with the record of historical accuracy, messianic prophecy, early church growth, Christian persecution, and extra-biblical sources, we see powerful substance (not mythology) underlying the claim that the writers of the New Testament record were eye-witnesses to the events themselves.
For instance, we know from sources outside the Bible that the Apostle Paul died during Nero’s persecution in 64 A.D. We also know that Paul was still alive at the close of Acts, so Acts must have been written sometime before 64 A.D. Since Acts was a continuation of Luke's Gospel, we know that Gospel must have been written even earlier still. Any scholar, including those in the “Historical Jesus” movement, will tell you that the Gospel of Mark predates the Gospel of Luke. This supports the writing of Mark in the 50s A.D., only about two decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. Outside the Gospels, no legitimate scholar will dispute that Paul wrote Romans in the mid-50s. Why is this important? Because Paul declares that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God in the opening lines of that New Testament letter. Galatians is another undisputed letter of Paul written in the mid-50s. Why is this important? Because Paul discusses his interaction with Peter and James, two of Jesus’ primary disciples, at least 14 years earlier in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul proclaims the earliest record of the Christian creed, in which Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead three days later. Why is this early creed so important? Because scholars, using the historical records of Paul and his early travels to Damascus and Jerusalem, place the above creed at about 35 A.D., just 3 to 5 years after the death of Jesus Christ.
Historical Jesus: The True Record
The “Historical Jesus” movement holds that the Gospels were fabricated or seriously distorted as the stories of Jesus evolved into the late 1st or early 2nd century. However, this theory is not supported by the evidence. Time and again the New Testament writers claim to be eyewitnesses to the facts, giving detailed geographic, political and cultural details to bolster the record. All of the manuscript evidence presented above is dramatic, because it establishes that basic Christian doctrine developed far too quickly for a myth to intervene and distort the historical record, especially when so many witnesses were still alive to contradict the alleged errors or myths.