Easter is just around the corner so thinking about the Christian claim that a man from Nazareth in 1st Century Palestine died and rose from the dead three days later is a timely consideration. The accounts of this event don’t read like mere story or legend. They have all the characteristics of Greek biographies that are to be considered historical accounts.
Many modern scholars accept the Gospels as part of the Greco-Roman biography genre (focusing on the similarities), while others find them uniquely Jewish (focusing on the differences). Overarching this ongoing debate is the apparent intent of the authors to assert a factual, historical narrative. This is true even though they include fantastic claims of miracles and the resurrection and all of the theological statements, most of which are penned as coming from Jesus, himself.
From early to mid-19th Century, much of the biblical scholarship has leaned in a skeptical direction, and that inertia has continued robustly into the 21st Century. That scholarly trend has produced a progressive consensus that has viewed the Gospels, for instance, as 2nd Century manuscripts, written generations after Jesus lived and died, morphing the original message into something akin to legend. And, this, they say, accounts for the message of the resurrection.
This view begins with skepticism and ends with a skeptical conclusion explaining the resurrection claim by embellishment that comes with the passage of time. This was the consensus view when I studied religion in the 1970’s. But one man, wrestling with his own doubts, took the facts the skeptics would give him and pieced together an analysis that seems to nail the coffin shut on the view that the resurrection claim is a later embellishment of what the first followers of Jesus believed.
According to Dr. Gary Habermas, Paul cites a number of early Christian creeds in his letters, and Peter cites one as well. Of first importance is 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The other creeds include 1 Corinthians 11:26; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 4:25; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; and 1 Peter 3:18. Other scholars identify creeds in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; Romans 1:3-4; Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:8; and Philippians 2:6-11.[ii]
The importance of these creeds is that they include the earliest message of the church following the death of Jesus. They reveal the most fundamental and central message of the early followers of Jesus. The significance of these creeds, then, can’t be understated, and they all have one theme – the death and resurrection of Jesus. Continue reading “The Message in the Earliest Creeds in the New Testament”→
Virtually no one disagrees that Paul’s letters (the ones scholars concede) were written in the 50’s AD. James, Peter and Paul all died in the 60’s AD during the persecution of Christians by Rome. Another key date is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The scholarly consensus is that “the deaths of these important figures likely encouraged the writing down of the narratives about Jesus” (though, some scholars maintain the narratives were written down well before that time).
(Incidentally, scholars in the 19th Century began to posit the idea that the Gospels were written much later, as in the 2nd Century, and that the Gospels were not written by the people attributed to them. That view of the Gospels grew into the 20th Century, but modern scholars have backed off that view and concede that the Gospels were written within a generation of the death of Jesus.)
Most scholars agree that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and that Mark was written around the year 70 AD. Most scholars believe the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were composed in the 80’s, using Mark as source material and a “collection of Jesus’s sayings” (oral tradition). The Gospel of John was believed to derive from different sources (like the Apostle John, himself).
While there is some disagreement on how early the Gospels were written, the scholarly work of Gary Habermas has convinced most scholars, even skeptical ones, that the message of the Gospel – that Jesus, lived, died and rose from the dead, appearing to his followers – goes back many years before the Gospels are believed to have been written. In fact, it goes back to the very beginning. Continue reading “Dating the Gospels and the Resurrection Story”→
If Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead, Christians are to be pitied above all people. These are not my words, or even the words of a famous pastor or teacher. These are the words of Paul right out of his letter to the Corinthians:
[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified [concerning] God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise….and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:14-15, 17-19)