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Summary: "An unexamined faith is not faith... but superstition"

"An unexamined faith is not faith... but superstition"

Mark 1:9-11

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Luke 3:21-22

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

John 1:29-34

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."

While there are variations in the telling of the story, the differences are not significant. We know that in the telling and retelling of the gospel story, different speakers and writers used different words and ways to tell about Jesus. But we have no evidence that the story of Jesus was changed significantly during the time period from the life of Jesus until the writing of the New Testament documents. If the story of Jesus was going to be transformed from that of a peasant rabbi into that of the miracle working Lord, we would expect to see significant development. Instead, what we find from the latest to the absolute earliest tradition about Jesus is the same: Jesus was believed to be the divine Son of God who was resurrected on the third day. We do not find him not working miracles in the earlier layers of the tradition and working miracles in the later traditions. We do not find his body decaying in the tomb in the earlier layers of the tradition and resurrected only in the later layers of the tradition. The story of Jesus is the same in substance throughout.

This argument may be extended in some very powerful ways. For example, not only is there evidence pointing toward the accuracy and continuity in the transmission of the Jesus tradition, but also there is no evidence for the free creation of words and deeds attributed to Jesus. One of the simplest ways in which one can demonstrate this is to study the major controversies which gripped the church throughout the later half of the first century. As Blomberg explains:

Numerous Christian controversies that surfaced after Jesus' ascension and threatened to tear the New Testament church apart could have been conveniently solved if the first Christians had simply read back into the Gospels solutions to those debates. But this is precisely what never happens. Not once does Jesus address many of the major topics that for the rest of the first century loomed large in the minds of Christians--whether believers needed to be circumcised, how to regulate speaking in tongues, how to keep Jew and Gentile united in one body, whether believers could divorce non-Christian spouses, what roles were open to women in ministry, and so on.

As Ben Witherington put it: "The evidence for Christian prophets speaking words that were later retrojected into narratives about the historical Jesus is nonexistent."

If the writers of the Gospels were this careful, there is no logical reason to think that anyone who went before them was not equally careful. Not only did they want to be accurate in their transmission of the story of Jesus, since it was sacred to them, but they also had the ability to transmit it accurately. In the ancient Jewish world, and to a slightly lesser extent in the Greco-Roman world, memorization was a highly developed talent. Huge bodies of literature or tradition were passed along in this way. If the early Christians acted in the ways which were traditional for the first century, they would have passed down the story of Jesus with great accuracy. As the New Testament scholar I. H. Marshall reminds us, the tradition of Jesus' deeds and words was transmitted in a Jewish environment "where considerable importance was attached to the accurate memorisation and transmission" of traditions.

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