WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
SKEPTICS VIEW OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Thy Kingdom Did Not Come
The Skeptical Niew of End-Time Prophecy
From Marvin Pate's book "What Does the Future Hold."
The reverent reader of biblical prophecy is in for a surprise in
this chapter on the skeptical view of New Testament eschatology,
for many today are no longer enamored with the events surrounding
the return of Christ, the millennium, or even heaven itself.
Rather, the skeptics we will meet in this chapter decry biblical
prophecy, believing it to be a manmade system born out of
superstition and designed to be used as a scare tactic to control
the masses. But it behooves the Christian to know something about
these radical ideas so as not to let them steal from the
Christian the joy of endtime prophecy.
The quests for the historical Jesus, The Da Vinci Code, the Jesus
Seminar - stretching across the twentieth century into our own
day, in their own ways these are all attempts to debunk end-time
prophecy. And they claim millions of followers, whose skeptical
view of the kingdom of God is giving traditional Christianity a
run for its money! Therefore these skeptical approaches require a
rebuttal from those of us who love end-time prophecy, who cherish
the inspiration of the Bible, and who are not ashamed to stand
for the exclusive claim of the New Testament - that Jesus Christ
is the Messiah and the only way to know God!
This chapter considers how nonevangelicals typically interpret
end-time prophecy. We will do this by analyzing the three quests
for the historical Jesus and the kingdom of God. These skeptical
views are essentially anti supernatural in perspective. Thus, for
example, the Jesus Seminar's Five Gospels "translation" (see
below) begins with the following dedication:
This report is dedicated to Galileo Galilei
who altered our view of the heavens forever Thomas Jefferson
who took scissors and paste to the gospels David Friedrich
Strauss who pioneered the quest of the historical Jesus
The other movements we will track in this chapter are of the same
piece of cloth in their antisupernatural biases. We turn now to a
summary of the skeptical quests for the historical Jesus and the
jettisoning of the idea of the kingdom of God.
THE START OF SKEPTISM
From 1778 until the present day, a storm has been unleashed on
traditional Christianity. Such a theological tempest has resulted
in the quests for the historical Jesus, the label most often
applied to this radical movement among New Testament scholars.
This storm has unfolded in three stages, which are called the
first quest for the historical Jesus, the second quest for the
historical Jesus, and the third quest for the historical Jesus.
The methods of those on the quest may differ but their agenda is
the same: to deny that the Gospels give us a historically
reliable picture of Jesus.
This chapter provides surveys of each of these three quests,
providing an evangelical critique of them as well.
The Apocalyptic Jesus: The First Quest for the Historical Jesus
The radical assumption that the Gospels are not historically
reliable documents but are later writings about Jesus that do not
square with what he really said and did began with the appearance
of the pamphlet "On the Intention of Jesus and His Disciples."
The work was written by H. Samuel Reimarus and published
posthumously in 1778. As its title might suggest, two claims are
made by Reimarus. First, Jesus was an end-time/apocalyptic
preacher whose expectation of the soon arrival of the kingdom of
God met with great disappointment. Second, in the wake of Jesus's
death and the nonappearance of the kingdom, the disciples falsely
claimed that Jesus was resurrected and that he would soon come
again to establish his reign on earth.
The pamphlet created a firestorm of response from both its
critics and adherents. These responses took on a life of their
own, with the result that each New Testament scholar read his own
opinion into the four Gospels. Some, like E.D.E. Schleiermacher,
David E Strauss (mentioned in the dedication above), and J.
Ernest Renan, denied all elements of the supernatural in the four
Gospels - excising Jesus's deity and miraculous works from the
record. Others were no less benign in their reconstruction of the
historical Jesus. Thus A. Harnack attracted a whole band of
followers who reduced Jesus's life and death to mere moral,
ethical teachings. Thereby the kingdom of God was scaled down to
simply loving others. The conservative response of men like J. J.
Hess to the radicals was well intentioned but not high powered
enough academically to compete with the heavyweight theologians
of the left wing.
But that stage of the quest for the historical Jesus came to a
crashing halt with the publication of Albert Schweitzer's classic
work in 1906, "The Quest of the Historical Jesus." In his book
Schweitzer masterfully demonstrated that the quest for the
historical Jesus amounted to nothing more than each interpreter
imposing his own opinion of who Jesus really was onto the four
Gospels. The result was a welter of conflicting offerings of the
historical Jesus. As they looked into the waters of the Gospels,
what interpreters saw was merely their own reflection: the
devotional Jesus, the liberal Jesus, the ethical Jesus, and so
For Schweitzer's part, he sided with the position of Reimarus,
the view that got the whole quest started in the first place.
"Consistent eschatology" is a label that New Testament scholars
applied to the works of Albert Schweitzer. "Consistent" means
futurist, with reference to how Schweitzer interpreted the
message of Jesus. As we have seen, Judaism at the time of Christ
divided history into two periods: this age of sin, when sin
rules, and the age to come, when the Messiah is expected to bring
the kingdom of God to earth. Schweitzer concluded that an
apocalyptic understanding of the kingdom was foundational not
only for Christ's teaching but also to understanding his life.
Thus Schweitzer maintained that Jesus believed it was his
vocation to become the coming Son of Man. Initially Jesus
revealed this messianic secret only to Peter, James, and John.
Later Peter told it to the rest of the Twelve. Judas told the
secret to the Jewish high priest, who used it as the ground for
Jesus's execution (Mark 14:61-64; cf. Dan. 7:13).
According to Schweitzer's interpretation, when Jesus sent out the
Twelve on a mission to proclaim the coming kingdom of God, he did
not expect them to return. The Twelve were the men of violence
who would provoke the messianic tribulation that would herald the
kingdom (see Matt.11:12). Whereas some earlier scholars believed
that one could only wait passively for the kingdom, Schweitzer
believed that the mission of Jesus was designed to provoke its
coming. When this did not happen, Jesus determined to give his
own life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and this would cause
the kingdom to come.
So, Schweitzer said, Jesus took matters into his own hands by
precipitating his death, hoping this would be the catalyst for
causing God to make the wheel of history turn to its climax - the
arrival of the kingdom of God. But, said Schweitzer, Jesus was
wrong again and he died in despair. So, for Schweitzer, Jesus
never witnessed the dawning of the age to come; it lay in the
distant future, separated from this present age.
According to Schweitzer, however, the apostle Paul put a new spin
on the message of the historical Jesus. In his book "The
Mysticism of Paul the Apostle," Schweitzer argued that Paul's
teaching rested on Jesus's proclamation that the kingdom of God
was at hand. While for Jesus this kingdom was still future, Paul
faced a new situation: if Christ's resurrection was the beginning
of the age to come, why had the other events associated with the
end of history (resurrection of righteous believers, judgment of
the wicked, and so on) not also happened?
Schweitzer's proposed solution to this quandary was
Christ-mysticism. Schweitzer argued that the Pauline phrase "in
Christ" signifies that the kingdom of God or age to come has
begun. But this is for Christians only because, through union
with the Spirit, they have died and been raised with Christ.
Schweitzer writes that through Christ we are moved out of this
world and transferred into a state of existence proper to the
kingdom of God, notwithstanding the fact that it has not yet
appeared. In other words, Paul's Christ-mysticism was a makeshift
attempt to explain how it was that, despite Jesus's resurrection,
the kingdom of God had not yet appeared on earth.
Most scholars today give due credit to Schweitzer for
demonstrating conclusively that Jesus was indeed an apocalyptic
preacher. Conservative Gospel scholars, however, beg to disagree
with Schweitzer's "consistent" view of Jesus and the kingdom.
Rather, they side with Oscar Cullmann that "inaugurated
eschatology" is the more accurate (and reverent!) view of Jesus
and the kingdom. Thus the kingdom of God did indeed arrive in
Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. But it is not yet
complete, awaiting the return of Christ.
Against Schweitzer, Paul's view of the kingdom also best fits
with Cullmann's inaugurated eschatology. Note, for example, how
the already/not-yet tension informs Paul's use of the phrases
"kingdom of God" or "kingdom of Christ."
Three observations emerge from the chart:
Text - Kingdom Description - Verb Tense
Rom. 14:17 Kingdom of God - Present tense
1 Cor. 4:20 Kingdom of God - Present tense
1 Cor. 6:9-10 Kingdom of God - Future tense
1 Cor. 15:24 Kingdom of Christ/God (implied)
- Future tense
1 Cor. 15:50 Kingdom of God - Future tense (implied
Gal. 5:21 Kingdom of God - Future tense
Eph. 5:5 Kingdom of Christ/God - Future tense (implied
Col. 1:13 Kingdom of Christ - Present tense
Col. 4:11 Kingdom of God - Present tense
1 Thess. 2:12 Kingdom of God - Present tense
2 Thess. 1:5 Kingdom of God - Future tense
Three observations emerge from the chart:
1. The kingdom of Christ/God is both present and future, already
here and not yet complete. This is consistent with what is in the
Gospels and Acts.
2. Christ and God are, in at least two instances, interchanged,
suggesting equality of status between them (compare Eph. 5:5 with
Rev. 11:15 and 12:10).
3. The most precise description of the exact relationship between
the kingdoms of Christ and of God is found in 1 Corinthians 15:24
- the interim messianic kingdom begun at the resurrection of
Christ will one day give way to the eternal kingdom of God. Such
a temporary kingdom is attested to in apocalyptic Judaism and may
be the background for Revelation 20:1-6. For Paul, then, the
order of history would be as follows:
This age --> temporary messianic kingdom -- the age to come
(kingdom of God)
Christians therefore live between the two ages, in the messianic
kingdom. Recall the comments on this in chapter 2 on pre-
The Form Critic: The Second Quest for the Historical Jesus (1920s
The second quest for the historical Jesus came in two waves:
Rudolf Bultmann's form criticism and the Jesus Seminar's Five
Rudolf Bultmann's Form Criticism
New Testament studies on Jesus took a different turn between the
1920s and the 1980s, though it was still a radical road they
traveled. It was the road called "form criticism." Championed by
Rudolf Bultmann in the 1920s through the 1960s and then
popularized by the Jesus Seminar in the 1980s, form criticism
continued the skeptical view of the historical reliability of the
four Gospels regarding Jesus. The upshot of its approach was to
drive a wedge between the Jesus of history and the Christ of
faith. The former was thought to be the real Jesus, who has been
lost amid the legendary portrayals found in the four Gospels. The
latter - the Christ of faith - is the theological spin the early
church put on Jesus, attributing miracles and sayings to him that
he did not, in fact, perform or say. In other words, the church
turned Jesus into the Messiah and turned a mere mortal into God
when he was neither Messiah nor God.
The movement started by Bultmann a radical German theologian -
was called form criticism because it divided the major types or
forms in the four Gospels into two categories and subcategories.
Sayings of Jesus
Miracles of Jesus
healings and exorcisms
In the first category - sayings of Jesus - the parables comprise
some one-third of Jesus's teaching and have to do with the
kingdom of God. "I" sayings refer to statements Jesus made
identifying himself with the Messiah, Son of Man, or Son of God.
The conflict stories portray Jesus in conflict with the Jewish
leadership of his day. But Jesus ends the discussion with his
critics time after time with a pronouncement, a "gotcha!" saying.
And the apocalyptic statements refer to Jesus's postresurrection,
future return to clean house on the earth for the sake of
The miracles consist of supernatural feats by Jesus dealing with
nature - walking on water, calming the storm, and so on - as well
as healings of people, exorcisms of demons, and even raising
people from the dead. The legendary miracles were once
nonsupernatural things Jesus did that got embellished with each
new telling - his wilderness temptations, the Holy Spirit
descending on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove, and so
While recognizing that the Gospels, like any other portion of
Scripture, contain different types or forms of literature that
bring their own hermeneutical rules to the table is actually
helpful, in the hands of Bultmann and his radical followers, form
criticism went south in a hurry. Its assumption that most of what
the Gospels purport that Jesus said and did, did not happen (the
Jesus of history) but rather are fabrications of the church (the
Christ of faith) leaves little confidence in the Gospels. In fact
Bultmann and his followers didn't even think Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John wrote the Gospels that are attributed to them. Rather,
later anonymous authors penned the Gospels under their names!
In 1953 Ernst Kasemann, a theologian trained by Bultmann,
delivered the paper "The Problem of the Historical Jesus," in
which he debunked Bultmann the debunker! In that paper Kasemann
turned on his former professor, accusing his form critical method
of being a dead-end street for the interpretation of the
historical Jesus. Kasemann called for a return to a basic trust
in the four Gospels' presentations; that is, the Jesus of history
is essentially the Christ of faith.
Unfortunately, Kasemann did not stem the tide; after stepping out
of the picture in the 1960s and 1970s, form criticism came back
with a vengeance, this time in America, under the auspices of the
The Jesus Seminar's Five Gospels: 1980s to the Present
The Jesus Seminar is a group of radical Gospel scholars who began
meeting in 1985 for the purpose of color coding the four Gospels,
which is actually a parody of the red-letter editions of the
Gospels (red being the color of Jesus's words in the four Gospels
to help distinguish them from the narrator's words in black). The
Fellows (the name of the members of the Jesus Seminar) put a
whole new radical twist on colorcoding the Gospels. The Fellows
arrived at their color-coded translation via the American way.
They voted on whether or not the five hundred references
comprising Jesus's words and works in the four canonical Gospels
were authentic, meaning actually spoken and performed by Jesus.
The vote on each saying and act went basically like this:
a red bead to indicate "Jesus surely said or did this" a pink
bead for "Jesus probably said or did this" a gray bead for "he
probably didn't say or do that" a black bead for "it's very
unlikely that Jesus said or did that"
What were the Fellows' final results? Only 18 percent of Jesus's
sayings and acts in the Gospels were deemed authentic and colored
red in their publications "The Five Gospels and The Acts of
Jesus" What criteria did the Fellows use to determine what Jesus
genuinely said and did? Two assumptions - technical sounding but
really very simple - guided them in their decision making. They
used the criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of multiple
attestation. Let's begin by defining these terms.
The criterion of dissimilarity states that a Jesus saying or deed
that stands out both from his Jewish heritage and from his later
followers (the church) truly goes back to Jesus. In other words,
the saying or deed has to be unique, thus dissimilar, from
Jesus's Jewish culture or what his followers would say or do. The
saying or deed only "counts" if it is in opposition to both
The criterion of multiple attestation assumes there are four
separate sources that make up the Gospels: Mark, Q (sayings of
Jesus not in Mark but in Matthew and Luke), M (material only in
Matthew), and L (material only in Luke). They omit John from the
discussion (see the comment about John in the quote below). If a
saying or deed attributed to Jesus occurs in two or more of these
sources, it is thought to be authentic. If it occurs in only one
source, it is not thought to be attested to and therefore is not
considered authentic. When all is said and done, what is left of
the Gospels as a result of this approach? Michael J. Wilkins and
J. P Moreland leave us in no doubt:
In the entire Gospel of Mark, there is only one red-letter verse:
"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Mark
12:17). Only fifteen sayings (not counting parallels) are colored
red in all of the Gospels put together, and they are all short,
pithy "aphorisms" (unconventional proverb-like sayings) or
parables (particularly the more "subversive" ones). Examples of
the former include Jesus' commands to turn the other cheek (Matt.
5:39; Luke 6:29) and love your enemies (Matt.5:44; Luke 6:27),
and his blessing on the poor (Luke 6:20; Thos.54). Examples of
the latter include the parables of the good Samaritan (Luke
10:30-35), the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-8a), and the vineyard
laborers (Matt.20:1-15). Seventy-five different sayings are
colored pink, while at the other end of the color spectrum,
several hundred appear in black, including virtually the entire
Gospel of John and all of Jesus' claims about himself (e.g. "I am
the way and the truth and the life" - John 14:6; "I and the
Father are one" - 10:30; and so on).
So what portrait of Jesus emerges from the above "findings" of
the Jesus Seminar? When the preceding two criteria, especially
the principle of dissimilarity, are applied to Jesus, he ends up
with no connection to his Jewish heritage and no ties to the
church he founded. In other words, the Jesus Seminar portrays
Jesus as a "talking head" with no body.
So this "talking head" Jesus appears to be nothing more than a
Greek-style philosopher who utters mere moral maxims about how to
treat each other, but who makes no claim to be the Messiah,
announces no kingdom of God, makes no proclamation against sin,
and subverts no religious establishment. One wonders in all of
this, however, why was this Jesus ever crucified? The Jesus of
the seminar might have ruffled some feathers among his fellow
Jews, but he would not have undermined their core beliefs.
By now you will probably be aware that the Fellows' translation
of the sayings and acts of Jesus is driven by their agenda to
reinvent Jesus for the modern world. Two biases are driving this
agenda: historical skepticism and political correctness.
The Jesus Seminar makes no bones about being skeptical of the
reliability of the Bible in general and of the Gospels in
particular. They express such suspicion in the "Seven Pillars of
Scholarly Wisdom," which forms the introduction to their two
books. What are these "seven pillars"?
1. The Jesus of history (the real Jesus who walked this earth) is
not the Christ of faith (the Jesus of the four Gospels and the
2. The Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is
not the same as the Jesus of the Gospel of John.
3. The Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel to be written (about
AD 64-68), while Luke (AD 80) and Matthew (AD 90) relied on Mark
in their portrait of Jesus.
4. The Q document (Quelle-German for source) refers to some 235
purported statements by Jesus; it was also used by Luke and
5. Jesus was not a fiery Jewish preacher of the in-breaking
kingdom of God (as Albert Schweitzer said) but rather a Greek
philosopher-type who went around Palestine uttering proverbial
niceties about the need for people to treat each other with
6. The written Gospels of the New Testament were pieced together
from oral tradition that had circulated in the churches a
generation earlier, which attracted legends and myths after each
retelling (that is, elements of the supernatural).
7. The burden of proof that the Jesus of history is the Christ of
faith now rests squarely on conservative Christians. It is they
who are under the gun to demonstrate the historical reliability
of the Gospels.
Are the Fellows' "scientific findings" and "assured results" (as
they would refer to them) indeed foolproof? The following
examination will demonstrate otherwise. I will respond to the
seven pillars in order.
First, is the Jesus of history different from the Christ of
faith? The heart of this issue is the question of the reliability
of the Gospels. Millions of Christians and thousands of
theologians for the past two millennia have said yes to the
dependability of the Gospels. Consider these facts:
1. The New Testament Gospel authors were either eyewitnesses to
the historical Jesus or close associates of those who were. Thus
Mark relied on the apostle Peter to write his Gospel; Matthew was
one of the twelve disciples; John was the "beloved" disciple; and
Luke wrote under the direction of Paul, who encountered the risen
Jesus several times.
2. The four canonical Gospels report the same basic story line:
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, claimed to be the
Messiah, declared the kingdom of God had come in his person,
began his ministry in Galilee, confronted Jewish and Roman
authorities, was tried and crucified by the same but arose on the
third day after his death, after which he was seen by some of
those very ones who would later write the four Gospels.
3. The above basic story line is confirmed by Jewish and Roman
writers outside the New Testament who lived in or shortly after
the first century AD. Even though their remarks about Jesus and
the early church are polemical in nature, they inadvertently
confirm the story line found in the canonical Gospels.
Second, are the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and
Luke) and the Jesus of the Gospel of John contradictory? No, for
as the first point above noted, the four Gospels follow the same
basic story line. Furthermore, it is now recognized by many
biblical scholars that the Gospel of John adds supplemental
material to the Synoptics' presentation of Jesus, for example,
the seven sign miracles, the seven "I am" statements, and the
upper room discourse. In addition, the passion narrative in John
is similar to Luke's presentation.
Responding to the third and fourth pillars, many conservative
biblical scholars do accept that Mark was the first Gospel
written, and Matthew and Luke used Mark and a different source
(Q) for sayings of Jesus to compose their Gospels. But this need
not suggest that the Gospels are unreliable, especially if Mark
wrote his Gospel under the auspices of Peter, and Matthew was the
author of Q. What we have in that case is one writer building on
an apostle's testimony - Mark using Peter, Luke using Matthew.
Fifth, if there is any assured scholarly result (what the Fellows
were seeking) today in Gospel studies, it is that Jesus was
indeed an apocalyptic preacher who believed that the kingdom of
God was breaking into history through his messianic ministry (see
Matt.6:9-13; Mark 1:15; 4:1-41; 9:1; Luke 11:1-4;17:20-21).
Albert Schweitzer demonstrated this in the early twentieth
century, and it has now become a near consensus among New
Testament experts. Since the Fellows believed Jesus was a quiet
Greek philosopher-type, there is little wonder that the first
instance of Jesus's mention of the presence of the kingdom of
God, in Mark 1:15 - "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and
believe the good news!" (NIV) - and all subsequent references to
the kingdom of God in the other Gospels are in black in "The Five
Gospels." To admit this to be an authentic saying of Jesus would
undermine the whole enterprise of the Jesus Seminar! They refuse
to admit that Jesus is the heavenly Son of Man who calls for an
end to this world as we know it.
Sixth, did the story of Jesus as passed on by word of mouth by
the first Christians look much different by the time the second
generation of Christians wrote it down? That is, were myths and
legends added with each retelling of the story of Jesus? The
answer is no, for a number of reasons:
1. The Jesus Seminar Fellows, like some liberal German
theologians before them, assumed that the sayings and deeds of
Jesus were passed along in oral form in the same way the Grimm
brothers' fairy tales were handed down - over hundreds of years,
with each new telling embellishing the account with more dramatic
flair. They thought of it like the kids' game "telephone," in
which one child whispers a secret to the next, who whispers it to
the next child, until the oft-told secret reaches the last
person, who reveals a secret that bears little resemblance to the
original. More recent biblical scholars recognize that this idea
foists a Western mind-set on the Gospels, which were, after all,
ancient Jewish Christian writings. That is to say, Jewish culture
was adept at passing along accurate information in oral form,
even as large blocks of African cultures do today.
2. The disciples, who were eyewitnesses to the historical Jesus,
lived into the second generation of Christians. They were the
gatekeepers of the "Jesus tradition," ensuring it was faithfully
passed on. The only way the early church could have been free to
tamper with the words and deeds of Jesus was if the apostles had
died and gone to heaven with Jesus (assuming the early church
wanted to do so in the first place).
3. Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to remind
the disciples of what Jesus said and did precisely to make sure
they got his story right (John 14:25-26). This last point won't
convince the skeptic of the reliability of the Gospels, but for
the believer today Jesus's promise that his apostles would be
inspired by the Spirit as they passed along the memoirs of their
Messiah is a reassuring word.
4. Thirty or so years between the time of Jesus and the writing
of the Gospels is not much time for myths and legends to have
been added to the Gospels. Not only that, but Paul's story of
Jesus, which jibes with the story of Jesus as found in the
Gospels, was written less than fifteen years after Jesus's
resurrection (see 1 Cor.15:3-11; Gal. 3:1).
Responding to the seventh pillar, Christians have no problem
accepting the burden of proof when it comes to substantiating the
reliability of the Gospels. Bring it on! More than one skeptic
who started out to disprove the Gospels has become a follower of
Jesus. There's Frank Morrison, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel, to
name only a few. Ironically, even Germany, home of much biblical
skepticism in the past, in part has done an about-face on the
subject, as the writings of Ernst Kasemann and Martin Hengel
demonstrate. These scholars cannot be accused of being
conservatives, yet their research again and again has confirmed
the Gospels' reliability.
(If you believe there is a God then you must believe that God has
the power to faithfully give His word to mankind, then inspire
men to write it down, then preserve it accurately and then have
the power to keep it preserved accurately forever - Keith Hunt)
The second bias of the Jesus Seminar I wish to expose is their
desire to offer us a politically correct Jesus. Not that being
politically correct is wrong. But it is incorrect to read a North
American mentality back into the first-century Gospels. This
becomes clear when one realizes that the Jesus Seminar places the
Gospel of Thomas alongside the canonical Gospels, even according
it priority over them. The Gospel of Thomas is a second-century
AD Gnostic reinterpretation of Jesus. The Gnostics were a group
of Christians who were considered heretical by the mainstream
church; akin to the Greek philosopher Plato, they taught that the
human body is evil and only the soul is good. According to them,
in the beginning there was one cosmic spirit-being and no matter.
But an evil creator god turned from the one true God and created
the world. Gnostics believed that they were not of this world but
descendants of the one true God. They thought of themselves as
sparks of divine light entrapped by the evil creator god in the
material world of his creation. Their goal - their salvation -
was to escape this world and reascend to the heavenly realm of
In Christian Gnosticism, the redeemer figure was identified with
Christ. He comes, as in other Gnostic systems, to remind Gnostics
of their true nature, to awaken them from forgetfulness, and to
tell them of their heavenly home. This Christ shares with them
secret knowledge - gnosis - which is the means by which they can
escape the world of evil and return to God.
The Gospel o f Thomas reflects the outlook of the Gnostic
movement in significant aspects. Jesus, for example, speaks as
the redeemer come from God. He reminds his followers of
humanity's forgetfulness and tells how it is in need of
enlightenment (Thomas 28). He deprecates the world (21:6; 27:1;
56:1-2; 80:1-2;110; 111:3). He reminds people of their origin
(49) and tells them of their needed return to the heavenly home
(50). He also speaks of his own return to the place from which he
has come (38)
In addition, the Gospel of Thomas is individualistic - each
person follows his or her own innate intuition, because that
intuition is divine. That's how they follow Jesus. Thus saying 49
reads, "Blessed are the solitary and the elect, for you will find
the Kingdom. For you came forth from it, and you will return to
it." In other words, Thomistic "Christians" possess individually
the true knowledge of their origin. Related to this, saying 70
reads, "Jesus said: If you gained this [truth] within you, what
you have will save you. If you do have this in you, what you do
not have in you will kill you." So Thomistic "Christians"
understand that the truth is within them, namely, their origin is
heaven, not earth, and it is this knowledge that will save them.
Thomas is also pantheistic - God is in the material universe, the
spark of divine in humans. Saying 77 makes this clear: "Jesus
said: I am the light that is above them all. I am the all; the
all came from me, and the all attained to me. Cleave a [piece of]
wood, I am there. Raise up a stone, and you will find me there."
Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas consists of 114 purported
sayings of Jesus - with no passion narrative: Jesus does not die
for sin and his body is not resurrected. In other words, this
apocryphal work is moralistic in orientation. One is saved by
following the light within, not by revelation from God from
The Jesus Seminar appeals to the Gospel of Thomas to prove that
early Christianity was pluralistic. That is, they say that some
Christians followed the four New Testament Gospels and others
followed the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. The Fellows are pleased to
find that early Christianity was tolerant of alternative types of
Christian faith. They see the Council of Nicea in Asia Minor
(Turkey) in AD 325 as the turning point, when the orthodox view
won out over the Gnostic approach and wrongly branded the latter
The Jesus Seminar makes quite an opening statement in its two
books: "Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you." The
ironic thing about this comment is that the Jesus Seminar has
found in the five "Gospels" precisely the picture of Jesus they
wanted to find - an individualistic, pantheistic, moralistic,
pluralistic, North American Jesus!
Critiquing the Methods Used by the Fellows
Robert Funk is the guru of the Jesus Seminar. His forceful
presence and drive formed a publishing group that in turn was
responsible for producing "The Five Gospels and The Acts of
Jesus." Funk, like Rudolf Bultmann, ardently believes that there
are two criteria for determining whether purported words and acts
of Jesus are genuine: the criteria of dissimilarity and multiple
attestation, discovered above. What about these two criteria? Do
they have merit?
CRITERION OF DISSIMILARITY
Remember that this guideline says that for something to be
authentically attributed to Jesus, it has to be different from
both ancient Judaism and the practices of the early church, but
there are at least two problems with this procedure. First, it is
logically absurd. Darrell L. Bock expresses this criticism well:
If both sides of the dissimilarity are affirmed, so that
Jesus differs from both Judaism and the early church, then
Jesus becomes a decidedly odd figure, totally detached from
his cultural heritage and ideologically estranged from the
movement he is responsible for founding. One wonders how he
ever came to be taken seriously. He becomes an eccentric if
only that which makes him different is regarded as
authentic. The criterion may help us understand where
Jesus's teaching is exceptional, but it can never give us
the essential Jesus.
Second, the Jesus Seminar is inconsistent in applying the
criterion. On the one hand, the Fellows use the criterion when it
works to their advantage. They believe John the Baptist did
indeed baptize Jesus, because (1) John the Baptist performed the
baptism of Jesus himself whereas other Jewish groups, like the
Dead Sea Scrolls Community, had the candidates baptize
themselves, and (2) the later church was embarrassed by John's
baptism of Jesus because it made the latter subservient to the
former. But, other times, when the results of the application of
the criterion of dissimilarity confirm evangelical convictions
about Jesus, the Fellows reject the conclusions. Luke 5:33-35
says that Jesus did not fast. The Seminar argues that although
Jesus's action is different from Judaism and early Christianity,
both of which practiced fasting, the remark is nevertheless not
genuine. Or take the example of the title "Son of Man." While
most Gospel scholars accept the title Son of Man as coming from
Jesus because (1) it was not a title for the Messiah in the
Judaism of Jesus's day and (2) the early church did not use the
name "Son of Man" for Jesus, nevertheless the Jesus Seminar
rejects it as authentic. It becomes clear in all of this that the
Fellows want to have their cake and eat it too. As long as the
criterion of dissimilarity supports their liberal bias, it is
okay. If it doesn't, they disregard the guideline's application.
Truthfully, the criterion of dissimilarity itself can strike the
reader as ludicrous because we recognize in ourselves that our
words and deeds reflect in some way our culture. How can one
possibly arrive at true portraits of individuals by stripping
them of their heritage and considering only those acts and deeds
as genuine that appear to be entirely dissimilar from their
culture? While Jesus certainly was not merely a collection of
words and actions reflecting the ethos of his day, and he surely
opposed the religious system of the time, he nevertheless lived
in the midst and partook of his native Jewish environment.
Multiple attestation occurs when a purported saying or act of
Jesus occurs in multiple sources: Mark, Q (the 235 sayings Jesus,
Luke, and Matthew share in common), M (Matthew's special
material), L (Luke's special material). Here, again, the Fellows
used the guideline inconsistently. On the one hand, they believe
Jesus's praise of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:7-11 is probably
genuine because it is found in Q and in the Gospel of Thomas. But
on the other hand, though Mark 10:45 ("For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as
a ransom for many" [NIV]) is similar to Matthew 26:24; Luke
22:19-20; and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, the Jesus Seminar declares
it to be probably inauthentic. This conclusion is all the more
lamentable since "Son of Man," as we saw before, meets the
criterion of dissimilarity.
But even if this criterion is applied perfectly, it simply fails
to convince. Just because it is recorded in only one Gospel, why
would that make the saying or action inauthentic? Why does it
have to be corroborated to be authentic? Certainly the Gospels
are not meant to be simply identical copies of one another.
When one learns where the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are coming
from - their heroes, their "seven pillars of scholarly wisdom,"
and their agenda - it is not difficult to see why they arrived at
the color-coded translation of the Gospels. This is not a group
of biblical scholars who represent the gamut of theological
beliefs but rather a group of people who fit the Gospels into
their own left-wing theological perspective, thus going against
their own premise that one must not create a portrait of a "Jesus
who is congenial to you."
Their methodology is flawed, including the two criteria they use
to determine the authentic words and deeds of Jesus and the high
status they give to the Gospel of Thomas. From their perspective,
only Jesus's virtuous life remains as being historically
accurate. The rest - Jesus's virgin birth, his vicarious death,
victorious resurrection, and visible return - are judged to be
mere stories or myths perpetuated by the church. This matter has
enormous implications. We do not commit our lives simply to a
good, well-intentioned but deluded man. Rather, as Christians, we
commit our lives to the risen Christ, to one who is all he
claimed to be and one who will one day return to fully establish
The Gnostic Jesus: The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus
(1980s to the Present)
The Jesus Seminar basically finished its work about a decade ago,
but its emphasis on noncanonical gospels over against the
traditional Gospels continues to make its influence today through
The Da Vinci Code and especially through the most prolific writer
on the Gnostic gospels today - Elaine Pagels. If Pagels and her
Ivy League colleagues have their way, the Gospel of Thomas will
replace the four Gospels, especially the Gospel of John. We turn
now to her radical spin on Jesus and the kingdom of God.
Elaine Pagels, Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at
Princeton University, has long championed the Gnostic cause in
American religion. Her bestsellers on the subject include The
"Gnostic Gospels," "The Gnostic Paul," and "Adam, Eve, and the
Serpent." In her most recent bestseller, "Beyond Belief.. The
Secret Gospel o f Thomas" Pagels argues that the Gospel of Thomas
has received a bad rap thanks to the canonical Gospel of John.
Her title reflects the thesis of her book: the Gospel of John
presents only one part of the story of early Christianity, and
not a very legitimate one at that. She asserts that the Gospel of
John promotes a religion in which individuals should cognitively
believe a set of dogmas about Jesus (that he is the only Son of
God, uniquely existing in eternity past, born of the virgin Mary,
died for sinful humanity, and arose in bodily form), and anything
other than these formulations are to be categorically rejected as
heresy. The Gospel of Thomas, on the other hand, argues Pagels,
presents a more promising path, a religion in which truth is not
revelation from God outside the individual but rather truth about
God within the individual waiting to be discovered and
experienced. The content of that truth is that Christians are
actually none other than Christ, newly created in the image of
God! Pagels claims vociferously that the Gospel of John was
written precisely to quash the growing popularity of Thomas in
the first-century church.
Authority: Where Does It Come From?
The real question here is where does authority come from? What
should be the canon? Should it be the New Testament or the
apocryphal, noncanonical gospels of the second to fourth
centuries AD? With this question Pagels goes for the jugular of
historic Christianity, arguing that Gnosticism was (and is) just
as legitimate, if not more so, an expression of Christianity as
orthodoxy. Her question basically is, Who made historic
Christianity the final say in matters of faith and practice? The
key issue behind this question has to do with the New Testament
canon - the books that are traditionally included in the New
Canon means rule or measuring stick. Discussions of the final
formation of the Bible center on at least two important
questions: When were the books of the Bible determined to be
inspired? And what were the criteria for including the present
books in the Bible? For our purposes, we will focus only on the
New Testament canon. Pagels's thesis is twofold: Before Irenaeus
there was diversity of opinion about the nature of Christ, even
in the New Testament itself. In other words, the New Testament
canon was open. But from Irenaeus on, an artificial uniformity
was imposed on Christianity regarding who Jesus was.
Consequently, the historical winners (the four Gospels) were
officially admitted into the canon, while the historical losers
(the Gospel of Thomas, for example) were shunned. After
summarizing Pagels's arguments below, I will offer a rebuttal of
them, point by point.
The Gospel(s) according to Pagels
Pagels wastes no time in her book "Beyond Belief" debunking the
idea that there was a uniform witness to the nature of Christ
early on in the history of Christianity. In reality, claims
Pagels, there were at least three major competing interpretations
of who Jesus was at that time, reflected in the Synoptic Gospels,
the Gospel of John, and the Gospel of Thomas.
Pagels wants to pit the Gospel of John against the Synoptic
Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) to support her theory that
there were diverse, contradictory views about Christ in the New
Testament. Thus she mentions the well-known differences between
the Synoptics and John: the Synoptics place Jesus's cleansing of
the temple in the passion week, while John situates it at the
beginning of Jesus's ministry (John 2:12-22); and the Synoptics
equate the Last Supper with the Passover meal, while John does
not, for he wishes to equate Jesus's death on the cross with the
time of the slaying of the Passover lamb.
Most evangelicals are not threatened by these dissimilarities,
attributing them to John's poetic license.
(The truth is that there is a truth to the seeming contradictions
just mentioned, and that truth is expounded to you in many
studies on this website - Keith Hunt)
But Pagels goes on to insist that the Synoptics' view of the
nature of Christ is that, though labeled the "Messiah," the "Son
of Man," and "Son of God" therein, Jesus was no more than God's
human agent! These titles were but metaphors not to be pressed
literally. According to Pagels, only Luke's Gospel says that
Jesus was made Lord, but only at his resurrection, not before.
THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
According to Pagels, the portrait of Jesus dramatically changes
with John, for that Gospel elevates him to equal status with God.
It is only in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the unique Son of
God, the light of the world, and without parallel among humans.
Pagels labels this "higher Christology" (Jesus is God) as opposed
to the Synoptics' "lower Christology" (Jesus is mere man).
THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS
The Gospel of Thomas, unlike the Gospel of John, teaches that
God's light shines not only in Jesus but, potentially at least,
in everyone. Thomas's gospel encourages the hearer not so much to
believe in Jesus (as John 20:3-31 does), but rather to seek to
know God through one's own divinely given capacity, since all are
created in the image of God:
The Kingdom is inside you, and outside you. When you come to know
yourselves, then you will be known, and you will see that it is
you who are the children of the living Father. But if you will
not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are
Gospel of Thomas, 3
When the would-be followers of Jesus look within themselves, they
discover that not only does Jesus come from the light, so do
they: If they say to you, "Where did you come from?" say to them,
"We came from the light, the place where the light came into
being by itself, and was revealed through their image." If they
say to you, "Who are you?" say, "We are its children, the chosen
of the living father."
Gospel of Thomas, 50
The Gospel of Thomas equates humans with Christ: "Whoever drinks
from my mouth will become as I am, and I myself will become that
person, and the mysteries shall be revealed to him" (108).
Then Pagels asserts: "This, I believe, is the symbolic meaning of
attributing this gospel to Thomas, whose name means 'twin.' By
encountering the 'living Jesus,' as Thomas suggests, one may come
to recognize oneself and Jesus as, so to speak, identical twins.
Then approvingly she quotes Thomas in that regard:
Since you are my twin and my true companion, examine
yourself, and learn who you are.... Since you will be called
my [twin],... although you do not understand it yet ... you
will be called "the one who knows himself." For whoever has
not known himself knows nothing, but whoever has known
himself has simultaneously come to know the depth of all
While Pagels believes that early Christianity offered various
contradictory perspectives on Jesus (the Synoptics, John, and
Thomas), she resonates only with the Thomas perspective. She
bemoans that the complexity and richness of early Christianity
was lost with Irenaeus, second-century bishop of Lyons, France,
who imposed, she believes, an artificial uniformity onto the
church. Irenaeus was an ardent combatant against Gnosticism,
prompting his five-volume polemical work "Refutation and
Overthrow of Falsely So-Called Knowledge," commonly referred to
as "Against Heresies." In those five volumes, the bishop affirmed
the notion of "apostolic tradition," that is, the orthodox view
of Jesus Christ that had been handed down by the apostles to each
succeeding generation, namely, his birth from a virgin, his
passion and resurrection in the flesh, and all unique revelatory
events that provided atonement for sin. As such, Irenaeus asserts
that this apostolic tradition represents the canon of truth, the
grid through which to filter out false teaching about Jesus.
According to Pagels, Irenaeus was among the first to champion the
Gospel of John as the true interpretation of Jesus, linking it to
the Synoptics, even interpreting the Synoptics through John's
perspective. Consequently, Irenaeus declared that these four
Gospels exclusively conveyed the true message about Jesus - that
he is the unique Son of God whose sacrificial death alone
provides forgiveness of sin. Irenaeus secured such a privileged
position for the four Gospels (read through John's perspective)
by mounting a campaign against all apocryphal gospels, demanding
they be destroyed.
Irenaeus set the church on a path that led to the victory of
orthodoxy over alternate expressions of Jesus, culminating in the
official approval of the four Gospels and the apostolic tradition
by Athanasius, fourth-century champion of orthodoxy. Such a
development was aided by the Roman emperor Constantine, whose
conversion to Christianity in AD 313 paved the way for the
legalizing of Christianity. Using Christianity as the unifying
principle for his empire, Constantine convened the bishops of the
churches in Nicea, on the Turkish coast, in AD 325 for the
purpose of composing a common set of beliefs among Christians -
the Nicene Creed. In the spring of AD 367, Bishop Athanasius of
Alexandria, Egypt, wrote his most famous letter. In his Easter
letter to the churches, Athanasius clarified the picture of
Christ that had been sketched out two hundred years before,
starting with Irenaeus. First, the bishop censured the heretics.
They have tried to reduce into order for themselves the
books termed apocryphal and to mix them up with the divinely
inspired Scripture ... which those who were eyewitnesses and
helpers of the Word delivered to the fathers, it seemed good
to me ... to set forth in order the books included in the
canon and handed down and accredited as divine.
After listing the twenty-two books that he says are "believed to
be the Old Testament" [based on the Hebrew reckoning], Athanasius
proceeds to offer the earliest known list of the twenty-seven
books he called the "books of the New Testament," beginning with
"the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John," and proceeding
to the same list of writings attributed to apostles that
constitute the New Testament today. Praising these as the
"springs of salvation," he calls upon Christians during this
Lenten season to "cleanse the church from every defilement" and
to reject "the apocryphal books," which are "filled with myths,
empty, and polluted" - books that, he warns, "encite conflict and
lead people astray."
The Argument against Pagels
Pagels makes essentially two arguments. First, she maintains
that, before Irenaeus, diversity characterized not only early
Christianity but even the New Testament. Second, she argues that
a forced uniformity became the mark of the church's teaching from
Irenaeus on. I take issue with those two claims.
THE QUESTION OF DIVERSITY
First, it simply is not true that diversity to the point of
contradiction characterizes the Synoptics' relationship to John.
Not only does the Gospel of John teach that Jesus is God, but so
do the Synoptics. This is clear from the Synoptics' titles for
Jesus, contra Pagels: Messiah, Son of Man, and Son of God.
Messiah is the Hebrew term for "anointed one" (Christ is the
Greek term for the same). It is clear from Psalm 2:2,7 that the
term does not refer to a mere man, for there the Lord's Anointed
One (Messiah in v.2) is proclaimed the Son of God (v.7). Even in
a Jewish work written close in time to the New Testament, 4 Ezra,
we see God call the Messiah "my son."
A similar dynamic exists for the title "Son of Man," Jesus's
favorite self-reference. This title originated in Daniel 7, where
it is the heavenly Son of Man who receives the kingdom of God
(Dan.7:13-14). "Son of God," as we saw in Psalm 2, elevates the
Messiah far above humans. Furthermore, in ancient Egyptian and
Mesopotamian thought as well as in the Roman Empire, the pharaoh
or king was declared to be the Son of God - one divinely begotten
of God. The use of these three titles for Jesus in the Synoptics,
then - Messiah, Son of Man, and Son of God - surely demonstrates
that they view Jesus as more than a mere man.
Moreover, Pagels asserts that the Gospel of John consciously
opposed the Gospel of Thomas. She says this because she believes
that Thomas dates back to around AD 50, although most scholars
date Thomas in the second century. The proof of this, according
to Pagels, is that the Gospel of Thomas must have been extant in
the first century because John criticizes it and paints such a
negative picture of the apostle Thomas. Thus Thomas does not
understand that Lazarus will rise from the dead (John 11:14-16);
he does not comprehend that Jesus is the way to heaven (14:5-6);
and most important, he has to see the risen Jesus before he will
believe Jesus, is no longer dead (20:24-28). But there is no need
to draw the conclusion from these failings of Thomas that John
was criticizing a written document about Thomas; after all, the
first two responses were typical of the misunderstandings of the
disciples toward Jesus in general during the life of Christ.
Furthermore, John 20:24-28 serves the purpose of confirming that
Jesus arose bodily from the dead, so Thomas was able to see and
touch Christ. But the "target" for this passage need not have
been the Gospel of Thomas, for the beginning forms of Gnosticism
in the first century AD denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus,
and John 20:24-28 is better suited as a barb against it. Scholars
date the beginnings of Gnosticism - but not the full-blown system
presumed in Thomas - to the late first century AD, with the
Gospel of Thomas following decades later. If this is so, then
Pagels's entire thesis collapses to the ground, for it cannot
uphold a first-century dating of the Gospel of Thomas. All of
this to say, the four canonical Gospels espouse a consistent
message about Jesus Christ - though he was fully human, he was
To summarize, Pagels states that the Synoptics do not agree with
John, nor do they agree with the Gospel of Thomas. However, the
real picture that emerges is that the Synoptics are very similar
to John in their portraits of Jesus and together they disagree
with the noncanonical Thomas's presentation of Jesus as Gnostic.
The bottom line is that it's the noncanonical Thomas versus the
Synoptics and John.
THE QUESTION OF THE ORIGIN OF ORTHODOXY
Neither will Pagels's second thesis do - that only from Irenaeus
on was there a forced uniformity on the church's teaching about
Jesus. In other words, she believes Gnostic writings like Thomas
were held in high regard among Christians, along with the
Synoptics and John, until Irenaeus messed things up. But this
assumption overlooks a crucial fact: orthodoxy runs throughout
the New Testament and is witnessed to consistently up to Irenaeus
and far beyond. In the Pastoral Epistles 1 and 2 Timothy and
Titus, written circa AD 64, the author (Paul) admonishes pastors
Timothy and Titus to preserve and protect the "sound doctrine" (1
Tim.1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim.1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9). This sound teaching
is no doubt the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42) concerning
Jesus's birth, death, and resurrection.
Second Peter (ca. AD 64) vows to protect that same truth (1:1;
2), as does Jude (ca. AD 80), urging the believers to defend "the
faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (v.3 RSV).
Most likely, these biblical authors were combating the beginning
expressions of Gnosticism. First John (ca. AD 95) rounds out the
discussion by providing a more sustained criticism of Gnostic
teaching (1:1; 2:22; 3:4, 8-10; 4:2-3).
This is all in keeping with the message of the Gospel of John
that Jesus is the God-man (see especially the opening statement
1:1-14). Irenaeus and Athanasius were not the first to "impose"
the canonical rule of faith. In reality, the Church Fathers all
the way from Justin Martyr (early second century AD) to Augustine
(early fifth century AD) attest to the orthodox belief in Jesus.
We see this from the fact that, while the Fathers quote the
twenty-seven New Testament books some 36,000 times, in
comparison, their references to the New Testament Apocrypha are
negligible. They also chose to read and preach on the
twenty-seven New Testament books in their worship services.
The necessary conclusion to be drawn from all of this is that it
looks very much like orthodox Christianity was far and away the
dominant view of early Christianity, beginning from New Testament
times and continuing with the Church Fathers all the way to the
Council of Nicea in AD 325 and beyond. By way of contrast,
Gnosticism and the writings it spawned (the Gospel of Thomas and
the other fifty apocryphal documents discovered at Nag Hammadi in
1945) were the view of a few extremists whose message the
collective church rejected-and rightly so.
THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON
It would be fitting to conclude this discussion of authority by
briefly stating what most biblical scholars - minus Pagels and
her colleagues - say about the New Testament canon. The answers
to the two questions posed near the beginning of this section are
First, when were the twenty-seven books of the New Testament
recognized to be inspired (in other words, from God)? The answer
is AD 200. By then the churches were reading and the Church
Fathers were preaching from all twenty-seven books that now
comprise the New Testament. This prior practice was later
confirmed at the Council of Carthage (AD 397). That assembly of
church leaders, held in Carthage, North Africa, determined that
only canonical works should be read in the churches. Then they
listed the twenty-seven books now comprising the New Testament as
(This is not the full correct answer. The truth of the
canonization of the New Testament is given to you on this website
under "Canonization of the New Testament" study - Keith Hunt)
The second question was, What were the criteria for including the
present books and no more in the New Testament? The Church
Fathers applied five criteria:
1. Does it have apostolic authority?
2. Does the writing in question go back to the first century?
3. Does the writing subscribe to orthodoxy?
4. Was the book read in the churches?
S. Did the people of God sense the book was inspired?
The simple result of the application of these tests in the second
to the fourth centuries AD was that the books of the New
Testament were admitted into the canon, while writings by the
Gnostics and others (the Gospel of Thomas included) were not. And
there is no reason for the modern church to do anything different
now. When it comes to the proper view of Jesus, the New Testament
is our sole authority - not Gnostic books like the Gospel o f
Thomas that tried unsuccessfully to force themselves on the
people of God.
In this chapter we have interacted with skeptical views about
Jesus and the kingdom, those who deny that the end-time kingdom
of God dawned in the life and ministry of the historical Jesus.
The first quest for the historical Jesus presented Jesus as an
apocalyptic preacher who wrongly predicted the advent of the
kingdom - the millennium - in his lifetime.
While we agreed with Schweitzer that Jesus was an apocalyptic
preacher, we also believe he was more than that. Jesus was the
Christ, the heavenly Son of Man, the Son of God, in whose sayings
and miracles God's kingdom dawned. And the resurrection of Jesus
proved this to be so.
I also rejected the second quest for the historical Jesus - the
form critic Jesus - on the grounds that the four Gospels are
historically reliable because they are divinely inspired. Thus
the Jesus of history is none other than the Christ of faith.
And the Gnostic Jesus of the third quest for the historical Jesus
fared no better in my estimation. It simply stretches credulity
to think that the Gospel of Thomas should rival the Gospel of
John. Nor should any other apocryphal gospel be added to the
time-honored works of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE SIMPLICITY IN CHRIST AS PAUL ONCE PUT
IT. IF YOU BELIEVE IN A GOD OF THE UNIVERSE, THEN YOU MUST
BELIEVE THAT THAT GOD HAS THE POWER TO GIVE HIS WORD TO MANKIND.
THEN HE HAS THE POWER TO INSPIRE MEN TO WRITE IT DOWN. THEN HE
HAS POWER TO PRESERVE IT THROUGH ALL TIME AND ALL AGES. AND ALSO
HE HAS THE POWER TO CANONIZE THE BOOKS HE WANTS IN HIS WORD, WHAT
IS CALLED THE BIBLE. WITH THAT ALSO COMES THE POWER OF NO
CONTRADICTIONS IN HIS WORD, THOUGH THERE MAY SEEM TO BE. HE THEN
HAS THE POWER TO GIVE TO HIS SERVANTS THE ANSWERS TO THOSE
IF THERE IS A GOD, THEN HE HAS A SPIRIT OF POWER TO DO ALL THOSE
THINGS I'VE JUST MENTIONED. THEN HIS WORD IS TRUE AND INSPIRED
AND JESUS THE CHRIST WAS GOD AND BECAME A MAN, AND WAS MADE GOD
AGAIN BY A RESURRECTION FROM DEATH, AND IS NOW SITTING ON THE
RIGHT HAND OF GOD THE FATHER IN HEAVEN. AND SO THAT SAME CHRIST
WILL LITERALLY AND BODILY RETURN TO THIS EARTH ONE DAY, TO
ESTABLISH THE KINDOM OF GOD OVER ALL NATIONS FOR 1,000 YEARS.
PRAISE THE LORD FOR HIS WORD, HIS TRUTH, AND FOR HIS COMING
KINGDOM ON EARTH.
To be continued