When I started my Forerunner Discussion Board in 2006, I posted the script to a video I had been working on for a few months, The Real Jesus. This video was inspired by and critiques a Peter Jennings special from a few years ago called, The Search for Jesus. A lot of Christians tune in to programs such as this one thinking they’ll find documentaries on the historical background of the Gospels. Instead we were treated to a two-hour commercial for the Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal scholars who are essentially regurgitating the Higher Criticism of over 100 years ago. The Higher Criticism is a positivist, modernist view that is ironically based solely on conjecture.
The tenet of logical positivism is that theological and ethical statements are nonsense and serve merely to express the feelings rather than rational thought. Only mathematical and scientific statements are literally meaningful, or “true.” Whatever cannot be proven by science and especially direct observation does not exist.
The Higher Criticism is distinguished from the so-called “lower criticism” — rightly known as just plain “textual criticism” — that seeks to discover what the original autographs of the New Testament books contained by comparing the earliest and best of the manuscripts and fragments that we have available today. Scholars are pretty much in agreement that we can be 95 to 99 percent certain that what is written in today’s New Testament is reliable and accurate compared to the original autographs.
The Higher Criticism on the other hand is purely speculative and ends up arguing in a manner opposite of the positivism that it claims to represent. Further, the claims of the Higher Critics were almost thoroughly refuted by the archaeological discoveries of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Some of the Higher Critics back in the 1800s went as far as to say that Jesus was a myth — that He never even existed as a man — but today due to the overwhelming archaeological evidence corroborating in minute detail the history of the New Testament, most liberals agree that Jesus was a man and most are even constrained to admit that the Gospels were written in the first century — not the second as the early liberals tried to say. For example just a few years ago, there was physical evidence found concerning several of the contemporary New Testament personalities such as Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas the High Priest. These were previously unproven from a positivist view except through written accounts. But now we know that these contemporaries of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament did exist. Today, the liberals continue to doubt the miracles and divinity of Jesus. But virtually all agree that He was a true historical person.
As soon as I posted my script on the Real Jesus, I began to get almost daily posts from a few people who insisted that Jesus was a myth, that there was no historical evidence that he existed, that the early Christians were Gnostics that took pagan myths and placed them on this allegorized fictional character. This argument went on for a few months until I got weary of them saying the same thing again and again.
The Jesus Myth proponents begin with the comparisons between pagan gods and Jesus. One of the problems with these is that many examples are fabricated out of thin air — such as the claim that the Hindus teach that Krishna was resurrected (he was cremated). But Christians throughout the centuries have always noted the similarities between the god-man stories and Christ. These actually lend credence to the Gospel. The idea is that God has placed “eternity in our hearts” — so to speak — and these myths just resonate with the true historical Jesus even though Christ appeared after some of these stories were created. The same is true for most of the Genesis story, the creation, the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, the flood, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and so on. These are universal truths found in all religions — just as the promise of a messiah is recognized in many religions. It shows the truth of the Gospel that we all had a common origin, that we sinned and came under an ancient series of judgments and received the promise of redemption through a messiah sent from God from the beginning (Gen. 3:15).
The Jesus Myth argument is also positivist. They insist that because there are not numerous first century historians who mention Jesus prior to 50 AD — a full 20 years after His death — He simply did not exist.
But in fact, there is a short list of first and second century Jewish and pagan historians who mention Jesus. The Jesus Myth proponents counter that these were either later Christian forgeries or they are not credible because they were writing what they heard from Christians secondhand and were not eyewitnesses from the time of Jesus ministry that lasted three and a half years.
Another common trick is to appeal to the “thousands and thousands” of Roman records of trial proceedings and crucifixions “none of which mention Jesus.” The odd thing about this claim is that there is no evidence that the Romans kept such records and certainly none exist today — at least not from the period in which Jesus was crucified in Judea. So the lack of Roman records is this logical fallacy that doesn’t make any sense.
Instead of Roman records, what we have are the accounts of eight or nine New Testament writers seven of whom were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry. We also have late first century accounts of those who knew the Apostles who wrote the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament. These people were called the Church Fathers because they were the second generation of Christian bishops who received their authority and the New Testament writings directly from the Apostles. We also have the third generation writings of the so-called Apologists who heard and knew the second generation Church Fathers, some of whom lived into the second century.