You would be surprised at the responses you receive if you were to ask the average Christian who Jesus Christ was. Some people think that Jesus was God, some think that He was the Son of God, and some think that He was merely an instructor. His existence is disputed by some. Reporter Lee Strobel looks into the current allegations made concerning Jesus and his life. Were the early church members to suppress the alternative gospels—the accounts of Judas and Thomas—and are they truly true? Did early Christians alter any of the biblical texts? Have any recent archaeological discoveries refuted the central tenet of Christianity—the resurrection of Christ? Does Jesus’ life reflect past mythological beliefs? In order to obtain the answers, he questions skeptics who are experts in their fields in interviews. At the conclusion of each chapter, he poses a series of summary questions to further encourage discussion and debate regarding the answers. At the conclusion of each chapter, he provides extra reading suggestions.
This was an exceptionally challenging book for me. It was important to engage in critical thinking regarding certain topics that have been in the news recently, rather than because it was a prerequisite for my course. In the headlines, there have been numerous challenges to the canonical reliability of Scripture as we know it. Others claim to have discovered evidence supporting ideas that defied the Bible, while still others claim to have discovered a second gospel book. The list goes on. The attacks were not necessarily on the Bible but on Jesus Himself. Was He really who He said He was, or is there evidence out there contradicting what is stated in the Canon of Scripture? Strobel went through and tackled the six most difficult-to-answer allegations and claims to see if the real Jesus was accurately presented in the current Canon of Scripture or if these alternative books have validity.
A common theme running through this book is how many people who call themselves “scholars” are actually not that good at all. Anyone can claim to be an expert on a subject in this day and age because data is easily accessible online. However, browsing through blogs on the internet does not make someone a scholar. Journalist Strobel conducted an investigation into the veracity of various claims, such as the secret gospel of Mark, the Jesus Papers, and the gospel of Thomas, by contacting leading authorities in their respective fields. Some of the scholars who were defending these books were remarkably unqualified; some were not even able to read or write in the original languages these manuscripts were written in, and one is thought to be a complete forgery based on strong evidence.
In order to give them credibility, the majority of these other books are said to have been written during the time of Jesus; nevertheless, it is discovered that none of them were written until at least the second century, which was greatly influenced by the heresy known as Gnosticism. After a number of tests, the veracity and facts of each book are determined to be lacking.
Strobel confers with eminent authorities in the field to address six objections to the veracity of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. The majority of his sources are highly regarded by both liberal and conservative academics and have numerous letters attached to their names. For Challenge #1, for example, he conducted an interview with Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., who is a prolific author and editor of more than fifty books, most of which deal with ancient texts.
Using the arguments that the canonical gospels were written soon after the resurrection, are eyewitness accounts, and are not pseudo-epigraphical, Strobel presents his first challenge (Scholars Are Uncovering a Radically Different Jesus in Ancient Documents Just as Credible as the Four Gospels). The canonical gospels are not at all eyewitness accounts. They are, at most, hearsay and, at most, made-up stories. The gospel of Luke is typically dated to a period around 75 CE, which puts it in close proximity to the resurrection and eyewitness accounts. That’s all very well and good, but it’s not true at all. Theophilus was addressed in both Luke’s gospel and its companion book, Acts. As for the early dating of Luke and Acts, well, Theophilus served as bishop of Antioch from 169 until 177. Naturally, the letter might have been sent to a different Theophilus who is undocumented in history, but why believe it in the absence of proof? Furthermore, from 180 CE onwards, the gospels are not mentioned or quoted in any extra-biblical sources. When it comes to the pseudo-epigraphical claim (which is limited to the canonical gospels), we have a gospel written by Luke. However, based on the dating I proposed earlier, he was not a traveling companion of Paul unless he was carrying a corpse. But I’ll give the author the name Luke just to make an argument. John wrote the book of John—not the apostle. Both Matthew and Mark are pseudo-epigraphical books. Stated differently, they bear the false names of Matthew and Mark. While I won’t even attempt to argue that the authors of the non-canonical gospels were the same people whose names appear on them, I will argue that if the pseudo-epigraphical classification did not rule out two of the four gospels and nine of the twenty-three Pauline epistles, then it certainly shouldn’t rule out the non-canonical writings. The writings discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 have been dated to the early second century, predating Theophilus’ appointment as bishop. Not only that, but the early church even made reference to one gospel. Now for Strobel’s conclusion—that the non-canonical writings can be disregarded in the quest for the true Jesus—let’s move on. He is blatantly incorrect. The non-canonical writings should only be disregarded if you suffer from a mental illness that demands Jesus to be authentic and represented as found in the canon. The writings that are not canonical are equally legitimate as those that are.
The Bible’s portrayal of Jesus cannot be trusted because the church tampered with the text, according to Strobel’s second challenge. Christian Bible scholars concur that there have been numerous additions and deletions of texts from their original texts in the Bible and other extrabiblical writings. Because the church is influenced by the original text, Jesus cannot be trusted for this reason alone.
Martin H. Kamaidan