Saturday, January 29, 2011

Anti-supernaturalism and the Search for the Historical Jesus

Right off the bat, we can know that when someone is searching for the "historical Jesus" it is likely that they are not starting with the Bible. And yet, the best information that we have regarding Jesus' life and teachings is in the New Testament documents. As many skeptics have made it their investigation, often with the intent to discredit them as historically reliable, they have returned with an outspoken faith; William Albright, Sir William Ramsey and Frank Morison are just a few examples. Former atheist, Craig Keener, has argued that the Gospels are in fact biographical accounts and that as such, they should be considered historical. The New Testament documents find their selves closest to the actual events and they retain and ever growing manuscript authority that is quite remarkable. Yet, these documents are held under an unusual amount of skepticism.

Obviously, there lies at the crux of the matter regarding the historical Jesus, the issue of miracles. In a recent discussion regarding the resurrection testimonies, I asked one such skeptic, if he were to personally experience a flash of light and hear an Earth shaking voice say, "BELIEVE," causing his neighbors to come running out of their house yelling, "What was that?" Would he then believe? He, in turn, responded with a non-answer, saying that he did not know what he would do. Perhaps he was being honest, but more likely he was evading the question.

The particular gentleman in discussion is so skeptical that he actually rejected the agnostic, Bart Erhman's postition that the early followers of Jesus really did think that Jesus was resurrected. Erhman was quoted as saying,

“Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. For it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution” (Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium [Oxford: OUP, 2001], 231).

I noted, "I think it sufficient to say that you, not only deny the miraculous, but cannot even conceive of believing your own eyes and ears in such a case. It seems a bit disingenuous that you would challenge the testimony of another, when you would not even believe your own eyes and ears. That being the case, how is it that such a person could be capable of extracting any historical value from the texts referred to (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, in conjunction with Tacitus, Polycarp and Tertullian as early non-canonical sources)?"

I then asked, "Don't you think it might be just a little arrogant to dismiss the historicity of the Gospels, the Pauline epistles and Acts based on your own personal subjective experiences and presuppositional bias against the miraculous? How could such a contention hope to find a viable position against those who have witnessed the affirmative in regard to the miraculous?"

My conclusion is that "there is no logical reason to reject the New Testament biographical accounts, except for an extremely biased presuppositional attitude against miracles and the very existence of God."

Suggested Reading:
The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener,
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright,
Jesus and the Eye Witness: The Gospels as Eye Witness Testimony by Richard Bauckham

Original Blog, Did Peter and Paul Die for Their Belief that Jesus Rose? by Dr. Clay Jones: