There have always been many who wish to discredit the claims made by Jesus the Christ and those who follow Him, that He was the Son of God, who died, was buried, and yet was resurrected on the third day. When He performed miracles, the Pharisees said He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24). After His death, we read the following concerning Him in Matthew 28:11-14:
Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city, and told unto the chief priests all the things that were come to pass. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave much money unto the soldiers, saying, “Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and rid you of care.”
So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day.
We see, therefore, that the attempt to discredit Jesus is nothing new. The tactics today have changed, however, from the tactics used in the first century. In general, “history” is used to “discredit” the claims of the followers of Jesus. Let us examine some of this “history” now.
- Gnostic Scriptures. A major discovery was made in Egypt in 1945 within a cave, Nag Hammadi, which included many texts written by the Gnostics, a “heretical” group of “Christians” in the first four centuries CE. These texts supposed themselves to be either gospels of the Lord Jesus, letters by the Apostles, or apocalypses of the Apostles. These texts are full of Platonic philosophy that was typical of Gnostic belief; thus, they all reject the bodily death of Jesus on the cross, some by saying that He was only an image with no flesh, that He was taken off of the cross, or that a substitute went on the cross. These works claim apostolic authorship, and they represent the “new” thoughts in liberal theological circles concerning the nature of Jesus the Christ.
How can we be sure that these texts are wrong? After all, they are historical documents, of the same time period of the “church fathers!” We can make a parallel with a famous event in more current history, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. We have books out on his death, some attempting to follow the known evidence, and many others promoting a large “conspiracy” involving many organizations (i.e. the Mafia, Castro, etc.). If an archaeologist were to find both kinds of books 2,000 years from now, what should he do? Accept both as “evidence” because they were written within a short period of the events? By no means! Therefore, merely because the Gnostic texts date within 100 or so years from the death of Christ does not mean that they are historically accurate.
- Revisionism. Many individuals today wish to go back into history and re-examine “opinions” concerning historical events. We see this occurring with not just Jesus but also the acts of His Apostles. These historians see Jesus as a prophet, teaching righteousness, yet deny the essence of His godliness, saying that He did not perform many miracles, and the ones He did perform were done by magic. They posit that Christianity began as a reformation of Judaism, for the church in Jerusalem kept the Law of Moses. These historians say that the “Hellenistic Jews” that joined Christianity altered the religion to be more attractive to a Gentile audience, and after the destruction of Jerusalem, became the only form of Christianity around.
Are these claims true? Concerning Jesus, there is only one choice to be made: we either must accept that God exists, that Jesus was the Son of God, and that He was able to perform supernatural acts in order to fulfill His mission, or we can reject the notion of God coming to earth and being able to change anything. Concerning the Apostles, however, we do have historical evidence to the contrary of these opinions. We see the following in Galatians 2:6-10:
But from those who were reputed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth not man’s person)– they, I say, who were of repute imparted nothing to me: but contrariwise, when they saw that I had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the gospel of the circumcision (for he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for me also unto the Gentiles); and when they perceived the grace that was given unto me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision; only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do.
Paul says definitively that the Gospel he preached was the same as the gospel preached by the “Jewish” Christians! We see further evidence, from one of the elders of the church in Jerusalem, James the brother of Christ, concerning the nature of Christianity in Acts 21:25:
But as touching the Gentiles that have believed, we wrote, giving judgment that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from fornication.
This is the same message ratified by the Apostles and the elders in the church of Jerusalem in Acts 15:23-29! The Bible demonstrates clearly that the church was always one, but that the Christians coming from Judaism were able to follow the Law of Moses until around 70 CE without condemnation, while the Gentiles were never given more laws than that which Christ had determined to give them. Nothing in the Bible would ever give a hint of the idea that Christianity somehow “changed” between its origins in Jerusalem and its development in the “Gentile” world.
- “Historical” vs. “Theological” Jesus. The “scholarly” circles in liberal Christianity speak much concerning the separation of the “historical” Jesus from the “theological” Jesus. Groups such as the Jesus Seminar have formed for such tasks. Their purpose is to remove the layers of “myth” that have grown around the life of Jesus, and try to find out who He “truly” was. How do they do this? By attempting to “read into” the Gospels to see what Jesus “truly” said, and by using “alternative scriptures” (read: Gnostic) to see “more clearly” what Jesus did.
An example is a theory I saw televised on The Learning Channel. These individuals were attempting to say that the “historical” Jesus really did not die on the cross, but survived and moved to France with Mary Magdalene. The “royal bloodline” of David continued through Christ there, and this was the meaning of the quest for the Holy Grail. The words for “holy grail” in French are “san greal;” if you move the letter g, you get “sang real,” or “royal bloodline.” Therefore, whenever we read that someone found the “holy grail,” he really found out that he is of the royal bloodline of David, the blood descendant of Jesus. Their evidence? A priest in France found within his church old texts written in code. He went to Paris to find someone who could break the code, and he supposedly found someone who did so. He then received much money from a donor, supposedly to keep him quiet about what the text said. He used this money to refurnish the church; it is supposed that he incorporated some of the message of the text in his decoration of the church and the christening of his house to Magdalene. Finally, at his deathbed, he gave a confession to a priest who is said to have run out in horror and never smiled again; it is believed that he heard the “truth” of the message of the text.
It takes much greater faith to believe in this story over the one presented in the Gospel! We have a man who finds a text, supposedly has it translated, is supposedly bought off, then supposedly uses its message in the church building, gives a confession of its contents to a priest, and then dies. Beyond just this, we are told that the message was that Christ did not die and moved to France with Mary Magdalene, yet the text is nowhere to be found, nor can we tell if it was translated properly, and finally, we do not even know if the text could be valid! Yet this is used to separate the “historical” Jesus from the “theological” Jesus?
I hope that we can see that these more modern attacks on Jesus, while supposedly being done by those who “seek the truth,” are simply the excuses made by unbelievers who wish to justify their unbelief. Any truly unbiased person would recognize that there is much more historical accuracy to the accounts we see in the Scriptures over the farfetched “theories” being presented today as the “historical” Jesus. We can be sure that the presentation of Jesus that we see in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are far more accurate than any other presentation known to man. Let us hold fast to two promises we read in the Scriptures, in Hebrews 13:8 and Matthew 28:20:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.