THE DIMINISHED JESUS
By Andrew Herbst
In 2016, National Geographic produced an issued called "The Most Influential Figures of Ancient History."
The list contains famous individuals such as Augustus, Alexander, and Socrates. However, National Geographic must be hard to please, because several names did not make the scroll. Abraham, for example, is considered the Father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but his name is absent. Ever heard of Plato and Aristotle? Although Vizzini called them "morons," these Greek philosophers greatly impacted Western culture, but they are also omitted.
Above all, the most remarkable exclusion of the "most influential figures" is Jesus Christ. One may have guessed Jesus would have been ranked at the top, or at least been included, but He has been dismissed.
Historical evidence, such as was presented in Article 1 (Was Jesus A Real Historical Person?), points to the fact that Jesus existed as a real, historical individual. It is difficult to get around the historical facts, so the next path Biblical critics take is to diminish Jesus. They do not deny the existence of Jesus; they merely regard the historical portrayal of Christ to be corrupt.
For example, skeptics are biased against the Gospels and claim the image of Jesus within the Gospels cannot be trusted. The miracles, sermons, and Resurrection stories are all thought to be products of great storytellers. These legends were loosely based on an actual teacher called Jesus, but eventually these stories were concocted into Jesus becoming a savior and hero of the whole world. Therefore, skeptics claim, the real Jesus of history was not a saving Messiah but simply a wandering teacher. Is it logical and historically reasonable to make such a claim? No, it is not.
Dr. Gary Habermas, an expert in the history of Jesus' life, explains the importance of how early Gospels were written. If the Gospels were written many years after Jesus, skeptics explain, then the information cannot be accurate. However, even with liberal methods of assigning dates to the Gospels, it is acknowledged that the four books were written within 20 to 60 years of Jesus' life.
That may sound like a long time to modern ears, until the fact is known that nothing like this can be equaled in the ancient world. Most ancient historians, like the respectable Roman Tacitus, wrote about historical events that were over a hundred years behind them.
Dr. Habermas presents us with the perfect comparison: the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar and Jesus Christ. They both lived at the same time, as Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was crucified. What does history have to say about them? Tiberius has the advantage of having one historian write about him while he was still alive. Unfortunately, this record is minimal and does not convey much information. A majority of what we know about Tiberius comes from three authors that lived nearly 100 to 150 years after the Emperor.
Jesus, on the other hand, has four accounts dedicated to His ministry, all dating within a few decades of His time on earth.
If the Gospels were written this early, as many liberal scholars recognize, then Jesus has more historical reliability than his contemporary comrade, Tiberius. Regardless of the evidence, many give full acceptance to the details surrounding Tiberius, while illogically diminishing the picture of Jesus.
However, the portrayal of Jesus is not limited exclusively to the Gospels. Prominent skeptics, such as Bart Erhman, accept that the Apostle Paul wrote several books of the New Testament. Although these skeptics do not accept all the books to be from Paul's pen, there are six or seven that they do not dispute are genuine. Most of these books were written near the two-decade range of Christ's crucifixion.
The earliness of these documents leaves no room for mythology to creep in. The evidence for a story about a hippie teacher developing into a Cinderella-savior saga is completely unfounded.
Distinguished scholar James D. G. Dunn claims that within one of Paul's undisputed books, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, is an early Church creed, or faith statement, about Christ's resurrection. This passage confirms that the first Christians had vast eyewitness testimonies of the risen Christ, and that they preached what the evidence led them to believe. If these facts are false, Paul wrote, then each Christian's faith is in vain. Dr. Dunn dates this belief back to within six months of Jesus' resurrection!
In addition to Pauline records, Dr. Habermas has compiled a list of over 120 facts about Jesus, using early non-Biblical accounts, which verify what the Gospels declare. Hostile Jewish sources speak of Jesus as a miracle worker. Although they claim He used witchcraft, they agree Jesus did wonders. His death is well attested to by multiple historians, and even Josephus reports that the disciples professed that they witnessed His resurrection three days after His crucifixion.
The Gospels and the Pauline letters teach us that the first Church believed Jesus rose from the grave, and they also believed Jesus was God manifested in the flesh. The early Christians saw Him as their salvation and originator of their faith.
This, in turn, led missionaries all over the world to preach about their Savior. Furthermore, these Christians were willing to endure torture and death, due to the fact that they had personally witnessed a Risen Jesus. Unfortunately, this is not seen as worthy enough to be "influential." It is easy to diminish the influence if Jesus you deny the reliability of the Gospels. As National Geographic illustrates, Jesus' critics still attempt to diminish Him even in light of the facts.
We will not leave Jesus with an "honorable mention," but with undeniable evidence we can rightfully place the risen Christ atop any earthly endeavor to demote Him.
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