Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: An unexamined faith is not faith at all it's superstition.

Sometimes we need a change of view. In most of your cases you need to have your "eyes of your understanding" checked for myopia (my·o·pi·a Nearsightedness. or Lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight).

What I write here is not by any means complete and as I read other sermons I recognize that perhaps I do you a disservice by not spelling everything out for you. But if I do that where is the excitement of discovery? The joy of learning for yourself? Many who think they understand and have all the answers, don't even have the questions right (excuse me if I step on your spiritual toes) but if you truly want to grow in Grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus then get out of the wadding pool and learn to swim! (OK enough preaching and back to our study).

What Can Be Known About Jesus From History?

We cannot prove everything in the Bible. The New Testament is almost 2,000 years old. The real Jesus lived 2,000 years ago. There are limitations to what one can know through historical inquiry. People are still in sharp disagreement over events which happened within the lifetime of many of us such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. How much more so is it going to be difficult to speak conclusively concerning a person who lived 2,000 years ago? But while the limitations of history do not allow us to speak absolutely, they do not prevent our speaking of possibilities and probabilities.

The remarkable thing about this whole controversy is that the skeptical revisionists reject almost in totality what the four Gospels say about Jesus, but they then write a new history of Jesus which is based upon surmise, speculation and theory. Their Jesus is supposedly based on the very same Gospels they have rejected. They are "insisting on discovering history where it cannot be found." If, for example, I cannot prove the virgin birth of Jesus through historical analysis, is it not also true that someone else cannot disprove the virgin birth of Jesus by the same method? Both of us can only speak of possibilities and probabilities. What is even more ridiculous about the Jesus Seminar and several other radical revisionists is that they accept the Gospel of Thomas as an equal or better source for information about Jesus than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel of Thomas is from the mid-second century or later and is possibly Gnostic. It is non-canonical, probably heretical in origin and dated fifty to one hundred years later than the four Gospels. How in the name of common sense can anyone equate it as a historical source to the four Gospels?

Much of the gospel story lies beyond the reach of historical inquiry. For example, it can be established quite firmly as a historical fact that a man named Jesus was crucified in the early first century. What cannot be established as historical fact, because it lies outside the bounds of such analysis, is that Jesus died for our sins and thereby made atonement for mankind to God. While it is important that the Christ of Christian faith be the same as and consistent with the real Jesus of history, the Christ of faith is the living Lord of whom we must say much more than we can say in a strict, limited historical sense about Jesus.

But what arguments from history can be made about Jesus? Only the barest of sketches can be allowed here. I do not have sufficient time to go into the details of literary criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and historical methodology. Neither is there time to survey the literature on crucial questions such as the dating of New Testament documents, the authorship of the four Gospels, the canon of the New Testament, the evidence for Jesus outside the New Testament, and other equally important and related issues. But here hopefully one can be pointed in the right direction for further study.

The four Gospels are a combination of history and commentary. They are history written from the post-resurrection perspective of faith which adds interpretation to the events in light of a fuller understanding of them from a later period of time. The Gospels are religious propaganda designed to convert the reader. Let us be honest and admit that the Gospels are biased in favor of Jesus. But the Gospels are not useless in searching for the real Jesus of history just because they are written by insiders. Their favorable attitude toward Jesus and Christianity does require that they be studied carefully in light of what they are and cross-examined for their integrity, but they need not be rejected without a hearing. A good historian knows how to cross-examine evidence, separating what is reliable from what is unreliable.

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