The Historical Reliability of the Gospels - Lesson 17

Resulting Identity of Jesus

Considering all the questions raised about the quest for who Jesus is, what can we know for sure? What is the core of the gospel tradition that does not require faith?

Craig Blomberg
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
Lesson 17
Watching Now
Resulting Identity of Jesus


A. Greater than John the Baptist

B. Challenged Jewish Leaders about Law (oral traditions)

C. Created the true Israel (disciples)


A. Kingdom’s arrival implies king’s presence

B. Metaphors applied to YHWH in OT

C. Response to Jesus determines our eternal state

D. Implications of forgiving sins

E. Abba and Amen

F. Messianic demonstrations during the final week


A. Son of Man

B. Other Titles

  • An introduction to the common myths that challenged the historicity of the gospel message. Some of the myths have no connection to any historical evidence (e.g., the Da Vinci Code), recently discovered “evidence” is often distorted (Dead Sea Scrolls and Gnostic literature), and Blomberg concludes that we should be initially skeptical of new findings.

  • How did Christians arrive at the canon of 27 authoritative documents that were from God and therefore foundational for Christian belief and living? Blomberg looks at hints from the New Testament itself, the citations and writings of the Apostolic Fathers, third century discussions, and the final ratification of the canon in the fourth century. None of our four Gospels were ever questioned, and no other gospel was put forward as equally authoritative.

  • Looks at the apocryphal and gnostic gospels. They show an interest in the infancy and final days of Jesus, but are of no historical value. There are gnostic gospels (mostly fragmentary) that are more esoteric, philosophical speculation, and Blomberg reads sections from the Gospel of Thomas.

  • Are the copies of the Greek New Testament accurate? Are the variations among the manuscripts so significant that we can no longer trust them? What about the two paragraphs that some Bibles say are not authentic? This discussion is called “Textual Criticism.”

  • Are the translations of the Bible reliable? Do they faithfully convey the meaning of the Greek? Why are they different and do they disagree on the essentials of the Christian faith?

  • Nothing covered so far guarantees that what the Gospel writers said is true. How do historians make assessments about reliability of claims made in ancient works? How do we know who wrote a document, when did they write it, and were they in a context in which they could know what actually happened?

  • There was a 30 — 40 year gap between the events of the Gospels and the writing of the Gospels. Can we trust the accounts of Jesus’ life as they were told during this time period. Were the Gospel writers even interested in preserving history? Were they in a position to do so?

  • Three recent areas of study encourage us to accept the reliability of oral tradition. They are studies in the nature of an oral culture, how the Gospels follow an informal controlled tradition, and the effect of social memory.

  • Discussion of the literary dependence among the gospels, formally known as the “Synoptic Problem.” Argues that Mark was the first written source, and Matthew and Luke borrow from him, from a common document (“Q”) and used their own material.

  • What kind of books are we dealing with? Different kinds of literature will be analyzed differently in terms of reliability. If it is fiction, we will analyze it a certain way. How should we read the Gospels?

  • While archaeology can’t prove certain things, it can corroborate many of the details of the Gospels and should encourage us to look forward to even more discoveries. Blomberg looks at Jesus’ imagery, the sites he traveled, the results of recent discoveries, and the weight of artifacts encouraging us to trust the Bible.

  • There is a belief that any and all Christian evidence is tainted, and so only non-Christian evidence should be investigated. Not only is this falacious (“silly and nonsensical”), and there is non-Christian evidence that tells us a surprising lot about Jesus.

  • Now that we have seen some of the criteria that historians use to judge the reliability of an ancient document, we will use those same criteria on the apocryphal and gnostic gospels. Blomberg uses the twelve criteria of historical reliability.

  • What is the resulting picture that we find of Jesus? For those who find only a small portion of the Gospels reliable, their picture of Jesus that results from the  limited sections of the gospels will be somewhat different from those who find a large portion as reliable.

  • Why do so many different scholars have such different views of Jesus? There actually is more similarity than at first is expected, but the differences are due to things such as scholar’s presuppositions. What then are the criteria for accepting a historical document as authentic?

  • Given the criteria established for historical reliability, which portions of the Synoptics have the strongest claim to being authentic?

  • Considering all the questions raised about the quest for who Jesus is, what can we know for sure? What is the core of the gospel tradition that does not require faith?

  • We have been looking at topics pertaining to the general trustworthiness of the Gospels. Now it is time to look at specific issues that might question the reliability of the Synoptics. Does looking at a cross section of the “apparent contradictions” give us more confidence?

  • Continuing the purpose of the previous chapter, Blomberg looks at specific harmonization problems between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John.

  • Looks at the overall features of John, arguing that they show the gospel to be a reliable witness to Jesus.

  • Now that we have looked at the issues of John’s reliability in general, Blomberg starts working through individual passages that have raised questions for some people. The question is whether or not Jon’s teaching dovetails with teaching in the Synoptics. Much of the issue has to do with presuppositions and the burden of proof, and the evidence Blomberg cites is often when John’s teaching finds a connection with Synoptic teaching or with historical data.

  • This quest was due to a new emphasis on the historical reliability of John. Some events in John have a greater claim to authenticity by liberal critics. Blomberg then looks at a theme throughout John of Jesus as the Purifier, which parallels the Synoptics account of Jesus healing people, making the unclean clean. This too argues for a greater part of John's gospel being historically reliable.

  • Paul discloses quite a bit of information about the historical Jesus in his letters. His letters come from the 50’s and early 60’s, before the gospels were probably written, so he is an independent witness as to whom Jesus was based on a reliable oral tradition.

  • Blomberg summarizes the previous lecture and continues by pointing out the similarities of key themes between Jesus and Paul. Instead of seeing differences between Jesus and Paul, these themes actually show how similar they are. Blomberg concludes by explaining why Paul does not make more allusions to Jesus.

  • Miracles are natural and expected if in fact God exists. But does he exist? If a person begins with atheistic presuppositions, then miracles are impossible and those portions of the Bible unreliable. This is not a detailed discussion of the topic but a quick summary of the arguments.

  • Do miracles outside of the Bible that parallel biblical miracles call into question the veracity of the latter? The fact of the matter is that they were different and often later than Jesus’ miracles.

  • Can we believe that Jesus was born of a virgin? If not, then this part of the gospel story is not reliable. Blomberg covers general issues and specific problems, and then positive support for the virginal conception.

  • What led a band of defeated followers of a failed Messianic claimant begin to preach him as Lord and God? If the resurrection is fiction, then the belief of the early church still needs to be explained. Alternate explanations fail to impress; and there is evidence for a bodily resurrection.

  • Does a defense of biblical reliability lead to any new insights about Jesus himself? Or does it simply bring us back to the status quo of historical Christian orthodoxy? Have our churches been preaching a balanced picture of the Bible, or have they been selective?

  • Blomberg summarizes the main points he has been making.

An in-depth look at the charges against the historicity of the gospels, and the evangelical answers.

Dr. Craig Blomberg

Historical Reliability of the Gospels


Resulting Identity of Jesus

Lesson Transcript


[00:00:01] This is a course on historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels, and we are up to session 17. The resulting identity of Jesus. After a plethora of considerations leading us to favor at least the general contours of the most widely attested and emphasized parts of the Gospels. It's time to ask the question What is the resulting identity of Jesus? In our very last segment. We look to add a dozen key features. All of them multiply attested, all of them satisfying the criterion of double similarity and double dissimilarity. If there is any reasonably objective way to get at the core of the gospel tradition, that does not require a presupposition of Christian faith in order to say this is what the Jesus of history was about. And hopefully those 12 elements have approximated what we can say about Jesus. But what does that mean? For how we assess this historical figure. What is the Christology? What are the understandings or teachings by and about the one called Christ? That emerge from all that we have surveyed thus far. I like the way Ben Witherington divides the evidence, and he begins by speaking of Jesus relationships. We talked about how his ministry intersected that with John the Baptist, and yet one of the things that he states in Matthew 11, 11 and 12 and parallels is that John was the greatest of all born of women, an ancient Jewish idiom for meaning human beings. And yet the one who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. Not. Qualitatively, not morally, not in terms of doing my dear works, but because John died. Before Jesus did and before the New Covenant Age was inaugurated by Jesus death and resurrection and sending of the Spirit.


[00:02:59] John did not have the benefit of life in the Kingdom age. But Witherington, I think, rightly asks the question. What? Emerges from the self identity, the self-understanding of one who would claim to pronounce. Apparently on behalf of God. Who is greater than the greatest of those who has lived thus far. Must be a pretty great one himself. Or at least he thinks so. We saw that widely acknowledged even by Josephus, even by the Talmud. And certainly throughout the gospel tradition was Jesus challenge not so much or at all to the written law of Moses, but to the oral traditions that had been added on top of it. Now, there was plenty of dispute in Jewish circles over the nature of the law. Pharisees debated Sadducees, who debated scenes, but no one swept away. All of the traditions of the ancestors. To the degree that Jesus did. And no one charted out their positions with respect to the law. Without either quoting other scripture to defend their views or quoting other revered rabbis. But Jesus didn't either. He just claimed to be able to pronounce what was and was not in force. What kind of self-understanding makes a person do that? We saw that gathering the 12 disciples together was a significant bedrock core part of the tradition. 12. No doubt. After the 12 tribes of Israel. As if to say. True Israel. In this new age freed from the traditional. Links to the past. Are those who followed Jesus. Of whatever background. However, ostracized, however ritually impure, however morally questionable. Their backgrounds were. Who has the sovereign transcendence. Without acting like a madman. To pronounce. To call. To sweep away tradition. In the fashion that Jesus did. The gospel writers apply a number of titles to Jesus.


[00:06:27] Here. It is hard on historical grounds to know. What can be trusted or what might have been added. By those later seeking to glorify Jesus. But what about that aspect of study that is sometimes called non titular Christology? Views about the Messiah. They do emerge apart from actual titles or labels like the pervasive presence of kingdom teaching. Which we saw in our last segment. Jesus regularly spoke of the Kingdom of God as at hand. As in the midst of those surrounding him, as present with his teaching and miracle working activity, but not yet fully. There was still a future dimension yet to come at final judgment. So people people were encouraged to enter into life. Beginning now in the present, but consummated only in the future. But if the kingdom has arrived. It implies the arrival of a king. If a messianic age is present. Through the miracles akin to Isaiah 35 that even many more liberal scholars acknowledge to have occurred in some fashion. Then a messiah. Must be present. No less than. About ten different metaphors. Not exclusively referring to God. But regularly applied. To your way. Jehovah. The Lord God Himself. Throughout the Old Testament. Appear on the lips of Jesus as a self reference. Any one of these. Would not necessarily mean much to our three. An interesting coincidence. By the time you hear all ten. You begin to suspect the choices are deliberate. In parables Jesus refers to himself. As a bridegroom. Ushering in metaphorically, a period that is explained as one of final judgment. He is a rock. Who redeems a lord of the harvest. A good shepherd. A sower. A vineyard owner. One who receives children's praise. And the list could be extended. A stone that is both a cornerstone.


[00:10:07] And a stone of stumbling. Who? Uses such metaphors. So consistently. And applies them to himself. In ways that are distinctive from his application to others. The end of Mark eight with Parallels and Luke two and elsewhere. Jesus says. At the final judgment the father will receive whoever receives me. Whoever confesses or acknowledges me will be acknowledged by my father, who is in heaven. There's no title here at all. There isn't even a metaphor like the ones we just saw. But think about what's implied in a client. If a pastor today stood up in a church and said. God will judge you for all eternity based on the way you have responded to me. Would we let him continue as our pastor? And if we did, what would be wrong with us? But that's what Jesus said. He claimed to forgive sins. Well, now, wait a minute. If you've been in a branch of the Christian church in which a pastor or priest. Leads a congregation, perhaps on a weekly basis and a confession of sins. It's not unusual to hear the Christian leader pronounce an absolution, a promise that God listens to penitent Christians and that their sins are forgiven sometimes. We miss the dynamic of a passage like Mark two and the first 12 verses when Jesus is about to heal a paralyzed man who has been let down through the roof. Carried on a pallet by four of his friends. Sometimes those eager to defend the Christian faith will say something like Who can forgive sins except for God? Because that language appears in this passage. But we need to read it a bit more carefully. The man is lowered through the roof. Jesus sees the people's faith. He says, Son, your sins are forgiven.


[00:13:30] Now, some teachers of the law were sitting there thinking to themselves, Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming. Who can forgive sins, but God alone? Push the pause button. Talk like that. He's blaspheming. Just because he said your sins are forgiven. Every priest in the temple on a daily basis. Announced to worshipers who brought animals for sacrifice after the sacrifice had been offered, that God had accepted a sweet smelling aroma and the priest announced the forgiveness of sins. And they weren't claiming to be God and they want infringing on. God's role. Before we can understand Jesus claim here, we have to understand the claim of the scribes or the lawyers. Why do they ask Who can forgive sins but God alone? Because Jesus does not speak in the name of God. He does not speak with the authority of a temple priest. He does not speak after a sacrifice has been offered. He has just bypassed the entire temple system, not making a single reference to God and said, Son, your sins are forgiven. That's what was blasphemous. Not claiming to forgive sins, but claiming to forgive sins by changing the game. By changing the rules. Without any evidence God had permitted that. Unless. He somehow believed he could speak with the mind of God. And so knowing their thoughts, he says, which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven. Or to say, Get up, take your mat and walk. Which is easier. Well. It's easier to say. Your sins are forgiven. How can anyone disprove me? But if I say take up your mat and walk and you don't get up. I'm disproved. So Jesus works the harder task. To confirm his ability. To work the lesser task, even though in reality.


[00:16:48] It's far more significant to have sins forgiven. Then to have simple physical healing. A lot more work here than first meets the eye. There are two error made terms that in places get transliterated. In Greek, simply preserving the Hebrew spelling and which undoubtedly lie behind many places where. A Greek word does appear for Father Abba and for our men. Truly. Although at one time we had not discovered any other Jewish uses of about for God. A few have come to light. But it still remains a rare term. There isn't quite a perfect English equivalent. Daddy is perhaps a bit too childish. But it comes close. In more formal cultures where someone might say, Dear Father. That might be a good equivalent, but it's not an expression I ever used for my dad. It is nevertheless a uniquely. Intimate term, relatively infrequent. And probably therefore a key window to Jesus understanding of his relationship with God. The Father. Man. Is simply a term that basically means let this be true. May it be true. This is true. This is most certainly true. And. Somewhere around 40 to 50 sayings of Jesus in the Gospels begin. A man I say to you truly, I say to you of a truth translations. Very. I tell you, truly. It's a strange way to start a sentence. It's an emphatic declaration of the truth of something without defending it or arguing for it in any way whatsoever, as if somebody simply recognized you as an uncaring authority who could dispense. Unswervingly true wisdom. Is that what Jesus was implying? We talked about his arrival into Jerusalem. His so-called triumphal entry that did not turn out to be triumphal at all. His cleansing of the temple. That was really a clearing of the temple.


[00:20:06] And yet these were messianic demonstrations. Zachariah in a messianic context in chapter nine, verse nine had prophesied that your king would come to you humble and mounted on a donkey and honor a cult, the fall of a donkey. And in clearing the temple, Jesus quotes Isaiah and Jeremiah. About how this house of worship has been turned into. A den. A cave. Of brigands. Of terrorists, of insurrectionists. What kind of self-understanding allows a person to make such strong statements to the highest religious teachers of his society? Those are fighting words. Once we see this cluster of nine titular. Indications of Jesus audacious. Claimed to speak as. The highest and most accurate religious spokesperson in his country without any human credentialing or authority or commissioning to do so. We begin to understand why his was a polarizing ministry. It was hard to remain neutral either. You became convinced he was the Divine Messiah. Or someone who was blaspheming and needed to be executed. When we turn then to the more explicit titles for Jesus, particularly in the Synoptic Gospels, we discover that by far the most common one is this enigma addict title, Son of man. Hardly likely to be one that would have been created merely to glorify Jesus in an age that had lost sight of the fact that He once was just a good Jewish rabbi. It was too cryptic, it was too easily misunderstood, and therefore we don't see it except for one reference in Acts on the Lips of Steven. And once in the Book of Revelation, we see it nowhere else in the New Testament but all over the four Gospels. We see a variety of other titles. He is called Lord, which can mean a human master, but it can mean God.


[00:23:03] He's called Son of God, which sometimes simply means Messiah, but other times means a unique Heavenly Son of His Heavenly Father. He's called Christ the Messiah, which could be viewed as a human liberator. But often meant much more. And there are other lesser titles that when one starts with them. It seems very jarring to apply them to the historical Jesus or any other historical person. But if one works one's way from Jesus, relationships with others. Through non titular Christology through the title Son of Man. Noticing how is each increasing datum? The picture of Jesus exalted self-understanding grows and grows and grows. It's a small step to these final exalted titles. If even the general contours. Of just the synoptic Gospels are historically reliable. We have to come to grips with an amazing man, a man whom. Darrell Bock. After a similar exercise summed up with the following words. The historical Jesus presented the Kingdom of God and the opportunity for participation in it. Such participation involved a turning in repentance to reaffirm the covenantal responsibility God originally gave to Israel, something that Jesus participation in John the baptisms, baptism and the selection of the 12 introduced. Jesus activity called for a restored people of God and a renewed relationship with God that was built upon his own authority. This new relationship, evidenced by the call to outsiders to come in, ultimately would reform the disciples relationship to others, leading in directions of righteousness and reconciliation with the privilege of being connected to God's rule came the rest of Jesus teaching. Which we have sought to corroborate in our study. This teaching called for the pursuit of a challenging, personal and societal righteousness that honored God. That prefigured our role as God's creatures and served as a contrasting paradigm to the world about.


[00:26:03] About how to live. This trajectory appears to cohere with what we have established by acting to show this decisive era's arrival, Jesus affirmed his central role in its coming, calling on people to believe in what God was doing through him and in doing so to follow him. In this way. His actions spoke as loud as his words, giving his words. Presented in conjunction with such acts, a context in which they could be illustrated and appreciated. Understanding the historical Jesus requires appreciating the scope and significance of His acts and the elements of authority implicit in them. These acts pointed to a new time and an appointed person. Jesus presented himself and his activity with both a demand and an invitation to participate in God's restorative rule. It was a rule that the historical Jesus Ministry in core events and activities sought to illustrate and to inaugurate. A historical figure like no other who calls on all people in all places. To be his followers.