What Do We Know About the Historical Jesus?

As I have stated a number of times, most every major celebration of the Christian year, there are articles in major publications about some aspect of the Christian faith that is being questioned or denied. We can add this year to the list. Newsweek included an article by Bart D. Ehrman, “What Do We Really Know About Jesus?,” (December 17, 2012).

Most will already know what to expect from Ehrman. At one time a number of years ago he professed a Christian (Evangelical) faith. Now he claims to be agnostic, and much of what he writes he attempts to deny the Christian faith and to undermine the truth of it.

Ehrman begins by addressing the controversy over the so-called translation and claims made regarding the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” He acknowledges that many consider this document a forgery. But that was his entry point into calling the New Testament into question as well. Appropriately and rightly, he debunks some of the myths surrounding Christmas and the historicity of Jesus and His birth. But sadly, and yet expectedly, he ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater, at least Jesus Christ, the incarnate God-man.

The New Testament documents “are not historically reliable descriptions of what really happened when Jesus was born,” Ehrman claims. He continues by claiming there are many scholars who recognize that Matthew and Luke simply cannot be trusted to convey accurate historical information. He notes:

there are problems with the traditional stories as they are recounted for us in Matthew and Luke, the only two Gospels that contain infancy narratives. However valuable these writings may be for theological reflection on the meaning and importance of Jesus—and why should anyone deny that they are tremendously valuable for that?—they are not the sorts of historical sources that we might hope for if we are seriously engaged in trying to reconstruct the events of history.

Ehrman does believe that Jesus was a historical person, who did actually exist. But he does not believe that Jesus was God incarnate in human flesh, the God-man born of the virgin Mary through the miraculous conception of the Holy Spirit.

It simply will not do to claim a Jesus of history, from whom we can gain much useful theological knowledge and information, from the Christ of faith. The Jesus of history is the Christ of faith! This is the amazing truth we celebrate at Christmas, and the truth we believe, embrace and celebrate not just for the Christmas season, but for now and eternity.

In an interesting irony, at the end of this year Newsweek will cease a print edition. As noted by Al Mohler, “Readers should note carefully that it is Newsweek, and not the New Testament, that is going out of print.”

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