The Historical Reliability of the Gospels - Lesson 29

The Jesus We Never Knew

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?

Craig Blomberg
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
Lesson 29
Watching Now
The Jesus We Never Knew


A. The gradual disclosure of the Messiah

B. Luke 2:52


A. Issues

1. “Badges of National Righteousness”

2. Legalism, Nomism and Ethnocentrism

B. Hostility

1. Matt. 8:10-12

2. Mark 11:15-19


A. Jesus’ friends

B. Jesus’ enemies


A. The goodness of possessions

B. The dangers of possessions

C. The stewardship of possessions


A. Biblical “Family Values”

B. The importance of unity

  • 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


The Jesus We Never Knew

Lesson Transcript


[00:00:00] This is a class on the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. Session 29. The Jesus we never knew. And I admit, borrowing that was one minor change from the wonderful book title by Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew. Like Yancy does in that book published in the mid 1990s from Zondervan. I asked myself the question. Having defended in 28 extensive. Detailed segments, the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. Does that lead to any new insights about Jesus himself? Does it simply bring us back to the status quo of historic Christian orthodoxy? It's one thing to say I will accept only certain portions of the gospel testimony and reconstruct my understanding of the historical Jesus on that basis. Of course, different portraits will result and if one accepts all of the data. But what if one accepts all of the data? Isn't that what Christians have been doing for centuries? In theory, yes. In reality, every Christian, every church that has ever existed, consciously or unconsciously, has emphasized certain parts of the portrait and played down other parts, has preached and taught heavily on certain passages and preached less or ignored altogether. Other passages. What would happen if we focused. Particularly significantly on those portions of the gospel tradition that are more widely accepted as historical, even beyond evangelical circles. Without rejecting the rest. But asking if we have majored on minors and minored on majors. As with all of these sessions, we can just skim the surface of an introduction to the topic. But I would like in this segment to suggest some timely lessons for today's 21st century. Predominantly Western. Evangelicals. I would like to suggest, first of all. Some truths about Jesus humanity because of challenges from skeptics. We have understandably been forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time in many different contexts in recent decades defending Jesus deity and important task to be faithful to the biblical witness.


[00:03:26] But in so doing, have we at times lost sight of a balancing emphasis on his humanity? Have we become. Unwitting dose scientists or even Gnostics having no trouble with the deity of Christ but not convinced of his full humanity. We perhaps laugh at stories of Jesus emerging from the womb and within weeks teaching others the alphabet and the meaning of each letter. But do we have a portrait of Jesus? That allows for. What all of the gospels, even the Gospel of John, depict as a gradual dawning on those who saw and heard him about his full nature. Whatever that means. For Jesus himself, it meant a gradual disclosure. Of what could be recognized as genuinely messianic. A key text in this light. Is Luke 252. At the end of loops, two lengthy chapters of his infancy narrative. We read. Then he went down to Nazareth with them. His parents. And was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. It's actually picking things up in verse 51 and then moving to 52. He grew in wisdom. He grew intellectually. He had to be taught the alphabet. And numbers. And the Hebrew scriptures. And their significance. He grew in stature physically. He grew in favor with God. He grew spiritually. And man, he grew socially. Why do we know nothing of the so-called hidden years between age 12 and about 30? Presumably because Jesus worked no miracles. Gave no magnificent sermons engaged in no itinerant ministry. Studied the scripture. Learn to trade with Joseph and Sons carpentry business. Was obedient to his parents. Didn't take a wife. No matter what. Modern forgeries might claim. Or even if someday a discovery of some ancient Gnostic.


[00:06:53] That truly made that claim. He was fully human. Professional counselors. Regularly report on how anemic modern American Christian theologies of suffering are. Countless people annually claim to abandon their faith because life has become too hard, too difficult. That's not. What they signed up for. That's not what a loving God would allow. It's what was considered the norm in most cultures and times in Christian history. But if Jesus was fully human, then, as Hebrews puts it, he was able to sympathize with us, tempted like us, yet without sin. He is able to relate to us. Those same professional counselors report that countless Christian clients say Jesus can't possibly relate to me. He never went through what I've gone through. He never sinned. How can he experience? The depravity I'm experiencing. But remember. The greatest temptation. Is to the person who never sends because that temptation is always there. As soon as one gives into temptation, it's gone. Jesus knew more about temptation than any of us. And he can relate and wants to relate. And wants to help us. 1974. The Oxford Scholar. Jew by ethnicity, raised Catholic, converted back to Judaism as an adult, gay as a fair mesh. Wrote a book with the simple title Jesus the Jew. And it was so shocking that made the cover of Time magazine. This was, after all, Barely. Three decades. Not even quite that. After the end of World War Two and the Nazi Holocaust. Today, such a title doesn't shock anymore. But do modern evangelicals truly? Appreciate Jesus as Jewish. As you read the Gospels, are you at every point trying to picture what this must have looked like and meant to first century Jews in the land of Israel? Or are you by default thinking about.


[00:09:59] Modern houses. And trades. And social dynamics and interaction. How many Christian preachers, teachers and lay leaders on a weekly business around the world continue unwittingly to be as anti-Semitic? As some of those who committed great atrocities by saying the Jews. In Jesus day. When there's scarcely a generalization you can make that applied to every Jew. Especially once you realize Jesus was one of them and all of his first followers were on them. Hopefully, if you've been listening to this series, you have heard my attempt and I can't. I would say, for having done it perfectly to say things like Orthodox Jews, Jewish leaders, some of the Jewish leaders, Ferris saying, Jews, we need to qualify our remarks carefully. These and many other issues. Confront us. When we reflect on a Jesus who undoubtedly wore a robe with fringes on it. The woman with flow of blood wanted to touch them, who perhaps had fallen trees on his forehead and arms may have had four locks. What color do you imagine Jesus skin to be? The white, blond haired Scandinavian look of some of the most famous modern pictures of Jesus. Oh, now we have the Jesus film, and we have Jesus with long flowing black hair and looking more Jewish. But is he dark enough? In the centuries before all of the Jewish intermarriages with people of European descent. It's been suggested the real skin color of Jews in the first century was more akin to people of today's Indian subcontinent. Could we even cope with the Jesus of that color? What about? But James Dunn has called the badges of national righteousness the issues that set. First century Jews apart from all of the societies around them. Things like circumcision. Like the kosher laws, the dietary laws.


[00:12:52] Sabbath keeping. One holy temple. So that sacrifices could be offered only at that place. In order to be legitimate. A uniquely holy land, given it was believed to Jews in perpetuity. Would it not have been easy? For many first century Jews. To at times taken undue pride in these. National symbols of God's election. Jesus challenges every one of them. One of the reasons that the historical reliability seems probable with respect to the Gospels is because the issues are pre 71st century issues. Ritual handwashing. Food that does or doesn't make one unclean. Laws for what a leper does after he determines he is cleansed. What can or can't be done on the Sabbath. Jesus cuts through all the kazoo history. That sometimes beset first century Judaism. Anything that set Jewish people off from all of the other nations around them. Are there ways? People in our modern nations in the 21st century take undue pride in what sets them off. As Americans. Or British or Canadian or Kiwi. Or Irish. Or Kenyan or Moroccan. Our Chilean. Or Zimbabwean or Chinese, etc., etc.. Every culture. Has such items. And there is no place for them in the body of Christ. Students of first century Judaism have increasingly appreciated that while there was an element of what has come to be called legalism. Doing certain good works to guarantee one's salvation. Far more prevalent is what has been called covenantal nomadism. And ethno centrism. The law as a way. To stay saved, not to get saved. Jewish child was born into the covenant community he was already in, but in a world that did not have. A sense of assurance of salvation, of what we sometimes popularly call eternal security. There was always the pressure to be good enough to secure one's salvation.


[00:16:14] Jesus cuts right through all of that. I'm guessing that very few people listening to this DVD series will believe that they have to follow certain rituals or accumulate certain amounts of good works to be saved. But are they in fellowships that think the only way to stay saved? Is to live up to a variety of manmade standards. That only if one represents their own culture or nationality. Because God has really favored. America or Britain or Taiwan or Australia, or pick your culture. Jesus. Does not appear was ever familiar with that concept that later became known as how to win friends and influence people. I doubt anybody would have called him sick or sensitive. In a passage that is an excellent diagnostic to see whether you are thinking like a first century Jew or not. And that story of the centurion servant, particularly in Matthew's account. Centurion. Believes that Jesus can heal his servant from a distance. Simply because he understands the chain of command in the military. And when Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, Truly, I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. If you're listening to this and your blood is not boiling, you are not thinking as a first century Jew. It would be as if the nation of the world most hostile to your nation at a given time, had a military leader and your pastor brought him into your church without any indication that he had trusted in Christ. Merely believe that. God could work through Jesus for a miracle. And said this man has more faith than all of you and anybody else in your country. Don't do that unless you're prepared to be tortured and lynched in some settings.


[00:19:22] Or crucified. As in Jesus case. Or what about Mark 11? 15 through 19 the soon optics are Ingram in agreement that it was the clearing of the temple that provided the final catalyst. For the execution plans of Jesus. But what made everyone so mad? Then he made a mess of a few tables. They would have been able to set them back up again. That he chased out a few animals. They would have been able to bring them back. No. The last thing we read as the most immediate catalyst for the opposition. After Jesus began driving out those who were buying and selling in the temple courts and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves, is his statement quoting. Isaiah 56 seven and Jeremiah 711. Is it not written? My house will be called a house of Prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers. Not the best translation in the world because the term less die or robber used also for Barabas is also for the two men crucified on either side of Jesus really means an insurrectionist, really means in modern parlance, a terrorist. Rahm contained the terrorists from an Orthodox Jewish point of view. But Jesus says. The sad you see in leaders who have compromised with Rome within Israel. Are the terrorists. Or c k Barrett paraphrases that you have made it a nationalist stronghold. Gentiles can't worship. You filled it with commerce. Didn't affect the Jewish ability to worship one bit. They had their own courtyard. Even the Jewish women had their own courtyard separate from the Jewish man. We live in an age today when record numbers of Christians are martyred and tortured and persecuted for their faith worldwide, and the American church is virtually silent.


[00:22:19] Because it doesn't affect us. Would God unleash these words on us? Jesus had compassion. For the foreigner. For the outcast, for the pariah of the society of his day. Do we? Jesus love the sinners without condoning the sin He called them to repentance. As I record these words. One of the most polarizing debates in our nation has to do with the gay community. What if evangelical Christians were known as being the most loving and compassionate and caring and trustworthy friends of gay people? Without condoning their lifestyle. Of anybody on the planet. But one group of us condones it. One group of us. Doesn't befriend them. And we're so, so far away. From Jesus model. Who are Jesus friends. Who are Jesus enemies. Who did Jesus treat? With shocking solicitous ness. Who did Jesus rebuke with shocking harshness. The religious insiders in their hyper conservatism who knew better and perverted God's Word are the ones who were regularly rebuked. But we kowtow to the ultra conservative in our midst. Because they give money. Because they. Wield influence and power because we don't want to offend them. Didn't seem to bother Jesus. But we managed to offend the outsiders. We can condemn them from a safe distance with no repercussions other than. We push them further from the kingdom than ever. Or how about money matters? We've talked about the parables of Jesus as a man. The most authentic. And an awful lot of them have to do with material possessions. In fact, 20% of Jesus teaching in all four gospels put together has to do with money matters more than any other single topic. And he certainly acknowledges the goodness of possessions. Thank God for the parable of the pounds and the parable of the talents that talks about investing the master's money and making more.


[00:25:43] Otherwise there barely be support for capitalism anywhere in Jesus teaching. But there's a sting in the tail. All the money remains the masters. And we all have to give an account for how we used it. Possessions are good, but they're dangerous. If one gets a windfall like the farmer with a bumper crop, one is tempted to. Save it for oneself. Rather than use it, the countless poor people immediately desperately needy around one. So crucial is the issue of possessions that Jesus tells a parable about an unjust steward, not to provide a model of how believers should be unjust, but of how they should be shrewd. With worldly wealth. As that individual was making friends for eternity. Creating community is another key topic. We hear a lot in our world about family values. Have we paid attention to Jesus family values? Who are fellow disciples. Our more our brother or sister or father or mother than biological family, especially when there is a religious contradiction or tension. Between values. What about John? 17. The one place where Jesus prayed for you and me. Those who had become believers through the apostles testimony as all who have lived in subsequent generations have. And when he had a chance to pray for one thing, he prayed for unity. No, not necessarily some institutional structure, but something that was visible so that people could see and believe we need no new evangelistic program in the world. We simply need Christians to go out of their way to get along with people from other Christian traditions, and the world will take notice. And meanwhile, it probably won't. The Jesus. We never knew. If we pay attention to all of the gospel tradition. Yes, I still think there is some food for thought there.