Summary: Jesus , We hardly knew you!
Each year I try to give you a different look or approach of what Easter means to you, to Christians and to the world in general.
This year I am going to either outdo myself or fall flat on my keyboard and commit hari karri. i intend to share what we know about Jesus, the real Jesus not the movie variety. Let's get started shall we?
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed (Lk. 1:1-4; NRSV).
Was the real Jesus of history one and the same as the Christ of faith whom we read about in the New Testament and worship in the church? Was Jesus really raised from the dead? Is he really the divine Lord of lords? Or is it possible that the portrait of the divine Son of God is an exaggeration, at best, or a complete fabrication, at worst, of the original Jesus? Could the one whom Christians worship be merely a mythological creation or is he real?
These questions have exercised many great minds and have been the dominant issue in New Testament studies during this century. Between 1910 and 1950 approximately 350 lives of Jesus were published in the English language alone. Since then the numbers have increased significantly. Not only are Christians writing about Jesus, but also Communists, Jews, atheists and agnostics are taking up their pens to paint a portrait of Jesus. Not only is this being done by the professional scholars, but also by playwrights, journalists and many others not academically qualified to pursue such a study within the canons and controls of proper historical enquiry. This has led Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University to refer to some studies of Jesus as "Amateur Night." With a literature this immense it is obvious that we can only note a few high points in the lesson today, but a bibliography at the end of the booklet provides sufficient resources for a more thorough investigation by those who are interested.
In the past decade these questions have escaped the confines of scholarly journals and scholarly discussions and exploded on the scene as a question of newsworthy interest equal to wars, politics and sports. We are used to seeing world leaders on the cover of national news magazines, but Jesus has been making the cover of Time, Newsweek, and U. S. News & World Report with increasing regularity. Jesus has become the central character of musical and theatrical productions like Jesus Christ--Superstar. We are used to seeing television documentaries on Hitler, Roosevelt or Einstein, but Jesus is the subject of numerous similar productions in the past decade.
Why the upsurge of interest? Why is a 2,000 year old story suddenly newsworthy? Unfortunately the media has been used, even manipulated, by a group of liberal, skeptical scholars to attempt a major act of historical revision. Too many of these media studies of Jesus imply that New Testament scholarship as a whole has come to certain conclusions about Jesus. These conclusions are that Jesus was not divine, that he performed no miracles, that he was not raised from the dead, and that the Christ of faith is a mythological creation of the early church. We are told that Jesus never did most of what the New Testament says he did and that he never said most of what the New Testament says he said. We are told that the Jesus who is worshipped in the churches is a figment of the naive, albeit pious, imagination of unsophisticated people. As Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, claims: "The only Jesus most people want is the mythic one. They don't want the real Jesus. They want the one they can worship."
Religious news is not usually very good for selling papers. It is boring unless there is a scandal to report. The members of the Jesus Seminar have been quite newsworthy, though. Where else will you get one who is supposed to be a university scholar of the Christian religion saying something like this: "[Jesus was very likely] a party animal, somewhat shiftless, and disrespectful of the fifth commandment: Honor your father and mother." The impression has been given that university scholars are exposing the gullibility of churches and ministers. The Jesus Seminar members have portrayed themselves as martyrs for truth against an evil empire--the church. That makes good press. But the tragic part of it all is that many casual observers are fooled by the rhetoric, and they reject Jesus as a result.