What Do We Know About the Historical Jesus?

Greg Strand – December 17, 2012 2 Comments

As I have stated a number of times, most every major celebration of the Christian year, there are articles in major publications about some aspect of the Christian faith that is being questioned or denied. We can add this year to the list. Newsweek included an article by Bart D. Ehrman, “What Do We Really Know About Jesus?,” (December 17, 2012).

Most will already know what to expect from Ehrman. At one time a number of years ago he professed a Christian (Evangelical) faith. Now he claims to be agnostic, and much of what he writes he attempts to deny the Christian faith and to undermine the truth of it.

Ehrman begins by addressing the controversy over the so-called translation and claims made regarding the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” He acknowledges that many consider this document a forgery. But that was his entry point into calling the New Testament into question as well. Appropriately and rightly, he debunks some of the myths surrounding Christmas and the historicity of Jesus and His birth. But sadly, and yet expectedly, he ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater, at least Jesus Christ, the incarnate God-man.

The New Testament documents “are not historically reliable descriptions of what really happened when Jesus was born,” Ehrman claims. He continues by claiming there are many scholars who recognize that Matthew and Luke simply cannot be trusted to convey accurate historical information. He notes:

there are problems with the traditional stories as they are recounted for us in Matthew and Luke, the only two Gospels that contain infancy narratives. However valuable these writings may be for theological reflection on the meaning and importance of Jesus—and why should anyone deny that they are tremendously valuable for that?—they are not the sorts of historical sources that we might hope for if we are seriously engaged in trying to reconstruct the events of history.

Ehrman does believe that Jesus was a historical person, who did actually exist. But he does not believe that Jesus was God incarnate in human flesh, the God-man born of the virgin Mary through the miraculous conception of the Holy Spirit.

It simply will not do to claim a Jesus of history, from whom we can gain much useful theological knowledge and information, from the Christ of faith. The Jesus of history is the Christ of faith! This is the amazing truth we celebrate at Christmas, and the truth we believe, embrace and celebrate not just for the Christmas season, but for now and eternity.

In an interesting irony, at the end of this year Newsweek will cease a print edition. As noted by Al Mohler, “Readers should note carefully that it is Newsweek, and not the New Testament, that is going out of print.”

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

2 responses to What Do We Know About the Historical Jesus?

  1. A huge problem with 99% of Christians is that they just assume that the Bible (the 66 books of the Protestant Bible) is inerrant – the “Doctrine of Inerrancy”

    ~ From there, if there are inconsistencies, omissions, etc. they just comfort themselves by saying: “well, we see through a glass darkly” and pray that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth…

    There are so many inconsistencies, omissions, etc. you could start with the huge discrepancies in how Judas died (Matthew and Acts, I believe – or Mark and Acts), and the story of the woman with the Alabaster flask, and end right there.

    Larry Richards wrote a book “735 difficult bible questions answered,” where his take on how Judas died demonstrates the most extreme case of exegetical gymnastics I’ve ever seen, where he has Judas running off a cliff and getting impaled by a tree limb, where he simulaneously was HUNG – on the tree branch….takes care of the Judas went out and hung himself, and fell headlong in a field and his entrails gushed out – so I guess when the limb (In Larry’s hypothetical scenario) pierced his body, his entrails gushed out – as he fell head long in the field – so the field was on a cliff I guess, and I guess he must have fallen off the tree… on the field… on the cliff… yeah, that makes sense.

    Funny, ’cause larry ends it by bascially saying: “Problem solved”

    • Steve, thank you for your reply. Three brief responses. First, you have fallen prey to the same criticism/accusation you have made of Larry Richards, but simply in the other direction. You have dismissed all attempts at explaining the apparent discrepancies by concluding they are outright omissions, inconsistencies, errors, and there is no hope of resolving them. Second, without intending this to be directed at Richards, there are those that have been responded to this issue in simplistic ways. Finally, there are those who have responded carefully and thoughtfully to these issues with good and viable explanations to these apparent discrepancies, e.g. Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007) and Daniel B. Wallace, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence, Text and Canon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional 2011). It is best to critique a view from the strength of the position.

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