by Luke Wadel
How Eternity Matters
A verse-by-verse treatment of all difficulties is planned. Until it is ready, Scripture scholar William Most has written a very useful and lengthly document answering quite a number of claims of Biblical error. Please click on the part of the New Testament or topic that is giving you trouble, and you will be taken to the appropriate place in Most's document. The file has been split into numerous linked files to save on download time.
Quite a fuss has been made by certain "scholars," even "Christian" ones (cf. The Jesus Seminar), concerning the "lack of evidence" for the historical Jesus. That is, some deny as unscientific that the Jesus as we know and love him in the Christian faith really existed in history. The New Testament, our primary source for information on Jesus in history, is assumed to require detailed anti-Christian verification from the secular historians of ancient hellenistic Italy or Greece. Pushed, therefore, to be a part of this "enlightened" movement, believers are expected to find in the Gospels -in the "narratives compiled by many just as they were delivered...by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses" (Luke 1:1-2)- not history, but kinds of fantasy novels of vague religious sentiment.
What kind of "history" should one search to find Jesus: exclusively secular or more realistic? And Italian or Semitic? Renouned British journalist Malcom Muggeridge writes his professional insights into this problem, this called-off and failed search for "the historical Jesus."
Looking for Jesus in history is . . . as trying to invent a yard stick that will measure infinity, or a clock that will tick through eternity. God moulds history to His purposes, revealing in it the Fearful Symmetry which is His language in conversing with men; but history is no more than the clay in which He works. Who would look for Michelangelo's Pieta in the quarry where the marble to make it was procured? Or for Shakespeare's King Lear in Holinshed's Chronicles? If this is true of mortal genius, how much more so when the artist is God Himself, concerned to send us a self-portrait in the linements, and using the language of mortality in order to open up for us new vistas of hope and understanding. This was the Incarnation, described in the opening words of the Fourth Gospel, in a passage surely among the greatest ever to be written at any time or by any hand. From its triumphant opening: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God to its beautiful and comforting conclusion: and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us... Full of grace and truth, it conveys with perfect clarity why the Incarnation had to be, and what it meant for mankind, at the time and for ever after....
Apart from one dubious reference in Josephus, in his own lifetime Jesus made no impact on history. This is something that I cannot but regard as a special dispensation on God's part, and, I like to think, yet another example of the ironical humour which informs so many of His purposes. To me, it seems highly appropriate that the most important figure of all history should escape the notice memoirs, diarists, commentators, all the tribe of chroniclers who even then existed, and, for centuries later were so sacrificed by St. Augustine in the days when he held what he called his 'Chair of Lies' in Milan and described himself as a 'vendor of words.'
Historically, Jesus is, strictly speaking, a non-person. Anthropologically too, he is without interest; we know, in this respect, more about Neanderthal Man than about the Son of Man. Likewise, so sociologically Jesus is a non-starter. What did he earn? How did he vote? What examinations did he pass? And what countries did he visit? The Gospels do not tell us, and we have no other means of knowing, though this has not prevented invention from getting to work; even, of late, in the Kinsey field. Suffragan Anglican bishop has raised the question of whether Jesus may not have been a homosexual; a sometime theological instructor in Manchestor has devised a theory, with all the ostensible appurtenances of scholarship, whereby the Gospels are no more than a fallic code; and in Scandanavia -inevitably there!- film makers have turned their attention to Jesus's sex-life.
Truly the myths of fact are the most absurd and misleading of all -this being, perhaps, designed by God to humble our pride when we discover that the myths of faith turn out to be, by comparison, our only truth. Even the most conscientious historians can study the past, as geologists do, only through its fossils; truth belongs essentially to a spiritual order where the categories of time and space, without which history cannot exist, or inapplicable. History is too fragile and indeterminant a structure to contain Jesus; like -using the imagery of one of His own parables- the old wineskins into which new wine cannot be put, or like the worn cloth which cannot be patched with new. How shabby, how patched and repatched, how thread-bare and faded this fabric of history is, compared with the ever-renewed, gleaming and glistening garnment of truth!....
[Thus historian Josephus goes into great detail about the incompetent and violent activities of King Herod 'the Great' and Herod Antipas.] These Herods, unlike Jesus, make their appearance in history. We have their dates, and details of their buffooneries, which interested chroniclers like Josephus, as they would today the Media. They trafficed in the stuff of news -murder, money, fornication, crime, violence and exhibitionism. Nowadays, the cameras would be constantly hovering round them, the gossip-writers and their stringers keeping an eye on them to see what they were up to and who were their latest wives. Herod the Great had ten, and doubtless every one of them rating a story... Ceremonial rather than actual sovereigns, [they exhibit] the scavenger dogs of power. And Pontius Pilate -how like a colonial governor! I almost see him in a grey frock-coat and topper; likewise, Caiaphas in lawn sleeves in the House of Lord. These are the pieces in history's running game of chess; the knights and bishops and castles and pawns whose moves are invariable even though the gambits change. [How appropriate, then, that Jesus passes unnoticed by the ancient journalists!]....
Of the years between the Holy Family's settling in Nazareth and the beginning of Jesus's ministry, the Gospels tell us nothing, apart from one episode in Luke's Gospel concerning a visit to Jerusalem... In this sense, the absence from the Gospels of material relating to Jesus's early years may be taken as an intimation of their authenticity. If they had been faked with a view to supporting the doctrines and superstitions of the early Church, why not include fabricated anecdotes designed to show how Jesus's sense of having a special destiny in the world, and a a special son-father relationship with God, was manifest even in childhood? Such anecdotes, as any prefessional gossip-writer or hagiographer knows, are easy to invent and always go down well; in popular biographical writing about the heroes of our time they abound... They are easily invented, rarely denied, and give pleasure to all.
One of the things that has struck me about the four Gospels altogether is how very easy it would have been to sub-edit them so as to eliminate the contradictions, inconsistencies and occasional apparent absurdities which have so delighted agnostics and whose exegesis has so exercised commentators. I really believe that, given a free hand and some expert help, I could have done the job myself in quite a short time, producing a consistent story with nothing in it for critics to cavail at or sceptics to ridicule. That this was not done when the first definitive texts were prepared -it would have been so easy then- suggests strongly to me that the writers of the Gospels believed they were recording Jesus's very words and deeds as handed down by eye-witnesses. They felt themselves to be in some special way Jesus's amanuensis rather than his chronicler, and therefore precluded from trying to work out and rearrange their material in order to make it more cogent and palatable, still more from altering it for the doctrinal convenience of the early Church.
One thing is clear to an old journalist who has done his fair share of putting garbled or 'awkward' copy into shape -if the Gospels are a fake, then the hands that did the faking were quite exceptionally inexpert and careless. All I can say myself... is that, on closer aquaintance with the Gospels, my sense of their beauty and sublimity has grown ever greater...
Malcom Muggeridge, Jesus: The Man Who Lives
pp. 21, 26-27, 36-37, 39-41
Let the "search for the historical Jesus" be a thing of our past; there remains that examination of those rough and uneditted "apparent absurdities which have so delighted agnostics." For in fact the agnostic absurdities are delightfully only apparent.
On the relationonship between the first three gospels, commonly called the Synoptic Problem.
On the genre of the Gospels, against modern-day secular trends in Scripture-study.
On Jesus' infancy and youth in all of the Gospels.
Secrecy of Jesus, including parables, many Pharasees' failure to understand, and the "Messianic Secret."
On the kingdom of God and the Church.
Jesus and the Jewish Law.
The Jewish religious of Jesus time (Pharisees, Scribes, Essenes).
On the commissioning of Simon Peter as pope.
On the Eucharist as Sacrifice in the light of the Passover.
On the working of redemption and justice. Why did Jesus die for our sins?
The Resurrection and aftermath.
On the different emphases in the Gospels and the four Evangelists.
Acts of the Apostles.
St. Paul and "the Law".
St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.
St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians.
St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians.
St. Paul to the Ephesians.
St. Paul to Timothy and Titus.
The Letter to the Hebrews.
Letters of James, Peter, John and Jude.
The Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse.
May God's peace be with you fully, in your heart, in your mind, and in your life.
Click here to (re)load the home page, How Eternity Matters.
© Copyrite 1997 by Luke Wadel. Written permission is required before copying, electronically or otherwise.
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