Regarding the Divide Between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History

college papers

There is a long-standing view that an impassible divide exists between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. This paper is about crossing this epistemic divide centered on what can be known about Jesus. Many scholars believe this divide cannot be bridged, but this paper argues that it can.

Growing up in San Francisco, I was surrounded by bridges. Traveling northbound from the San Francisco peninsula, one crosses the Golden Gate Straight by virtue of the world famous Golden Gate Bridge. Traveling eastbound, out of “the city,” there is the less famous double-stacked Oakland Bay Bridge, which is the workhorse among the Bay Area bridges. There are two events connected to these bridges have taught me two relevant lessons.

First, during the 6.9m 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a large section of the top level (outbound) of the Bay Bridge collapsed. I watched, on a small battery powered radio-tv, a news report of a vehicle attempting to jump the divide, only to fail tragically. The vehicle had no ability to jump the gap. I learned that day that hope is not enough to cross a wide gap. We must evaluate the evidence to “look before we leap.” Second, few know that many said the Golden Gate straight could not be bridged. In fact, engineering experts said a bridge would never be built because the straight was too long, the winds were too strong, the waters would be a nightmare for construction, and the fog would further hamper the process. Yet, four years of construction (1933-1937) later, the impossible expanse was built. Sometimes, the naysayers give you the planks upon which to build your bridge.

Christianity and the Impassable Divide

These anecdotes inspire me to challenge the so-called “impassable” ditch at hand. It is not a small challenge, for the claim has been made by some of the sharpest minds in “thinking” history. It is, nevertheless, part of the calling of every Christian to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15 ESV).[1] Peter was aware that Christians will be called upon to explain the connection between their behavior and their conviction in Jesus as Lord (1 Pet 4:1-5). Life and faith converge in Jesus. What some would argue is an impassable gulf -reality and value/significance- was the connective tissues of a Christian ethical apologetic. It may be argued, then, that first-century Christians were already crossing the “impassable” bridge between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

Peter anticipated no epistemic difficulty -no crisis- explaining how “Jesus as Lord” connects with significance to the everyday issues of his life and his future. Accordingly, this early text assumes that the full identity of Jesus held an immediate significance to the lives of struggling Christians. It is the result of both his historic existence and his spiritual Lordship viewed as one tightly interwoven reality. This “interwoven reality” is not, however, the view of many within the academic circles of biblical and philosophical criticism.

This issue at hand is multifaceted and complicated, but it is not insurmountable nor impassable. One must evaluate the evidence and acknowledge the complexity of the problem at hand in order to offer a solution. For instance, there is a large time-gap between today and the first-century. This raises a lot of genuine historical questions all by itself concerning sources which provide any measure of access to Jesus. Further, those ancient sources must be evaluated to test their genuineness to weigh their authenticity and accuracy to verify if they are primary or secondary sources, literary or non-literary sources. These and many other questions are used to evaluate ancient sources that allow the historian to reconstruct a probable and revisable picture of the ancient past. If the current matter were simply an issue regarding sources, then there are numerous literary sources from the first-century which point to Jesus, the events and personalities surrounding his ministry, his death, and the belief and practices of early Christians. Many have discussed and debated these sources,[2] but the tension at hand focuses on a level a bit “deeper” than literary sources (though they will be considered).

At its core, the problem at hand is epistemic; that is, it centers on “how” knowledge is obtained, how knowledge connects the self “within” (internal) to the world “without” (external).[3] David Lipe briefly summarizes it as, “the study of the origin, nature, extent and reliability of knowledge.”[4] Vergilius Ferm points out that epistemology seeks to answer the following questions:

What is the source of human knowledge? What are its limitations? How do we come by our knowledge of the external world, of ourselves, of others? How can we trust our ideas as valid?[5]

Schools of thought, such as empiricism and rationalism, and the debates which they create have formed the basis of the dichotomy that pits the “historical Jesus” against the Christ faith-claim. In particular, with rationalism (Decartes, Spinoza, Leibniz), mind (a priori) is regarded as being given authority/primacy over the senses (a posteriori); that is, a priori knowledge is superior to a posteriori knowledge. Conclusions drawn would be deductively reasoned knowledge such as Aristotle’s “laws of thought.” On the other hand, empiricism (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) approaches knowledge from the other direction -the senses/experience; that is, a posteriori knowledge is regarded superior to a priori knowledge. This would be inductively experienced knowledge grounded in life.[6]

Enter Immanuel Kan (1724-1804). In the late eighteenth century, Kant would attempt to split the difference by attempting to synthesize and hold both in tension. That is, we can know “how” we know something, but the knowledge is completely subjective. Knowledge is only a perception, a “representation,” and not actually real to life (the thing in-itself).[7] Kant develops the thought this way:

all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the case with objects in themselves and abstracted from all this receptivity of our sensibility remains entirely unknown to us.[8]

Yet, as Norman Geisler points out, Kant’s epistemology results into a self-defeating “philosophical agnosticism.”[9] Attempts like these to explain how we obtain knowledge is at the core of the so-called impassable gulf between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

The Contours of the Impassable Divide

This debate fundamentally represents the struggle between connecting the tangible to the intangible, life and significance, the historic and the historical. In addition to a number of certain epistemic concerns, the divide is infused with an anti-supernatural bias which has manifested in at least five forms.[10] They are summarized briefly here, with the danger of oversimplification:

Gotthold E. Lessing (1729-1781) argued that there is an “ugly ditch” between historical contingent truths and the eternal necessary truths. His “ugly ditch” language has essentially framed the whole conversation.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that there is a gulf between facts (contingent truths) and values (experience/reasons) that cannot be bridged but by faith (not knowledge).

Martin Kähler (1835-1912) expressed his concern for a reconstructed (historical) Jesus that must be mediated by the trained hands of critical scholarship. Kähler affirmed an impassable divide between the historical (reconstructed) Jesus and the historic (real) Jesus that cannot be cross unless by faith evoked by the historic Jesus. 

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) viewed that the “historical” has no connection to the eternal, so real history is immaterial to the “leap of faith” toward the spiritual/eternal.

Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), argued that Jesus —as built on untrustworthy sources (Christian testimony, myths, and legends)— is not relevant for faith nor spiritual truth claims. It is the symbolism that matters at an existential level, that is, the meaning intended by such “sources.”

These all reflect a gap, a ditch, a divide, for which it is claimed that they cannot be bridged. It will be, then, the approach of this paper to first briefly critique the arguments for this impassable gap. Then, attention will be given to ancient sources, both within the New Testament canon and outside the New Testament canon to demonstrate that history and value claims must be intertwined to make sense of evidence. From this, provisional conclusions will be made that are reasonable and consistent with this evidence.

Critique of the Impassable Gap of the Historical Quest

The problem with the arguments used to articulate the dichotomy of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are typically self-defeating and beg the question at the methodological level. The “gap” issue significantly touches on the crux of the quest for historical Jesus. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) points to Lessing’s publication of Herman S. Reimarus’ Fragments in which Reimarus separates what the apostles said about Jesus from what Jesus said about himself.[11] Since Schweitzer, the publication of Fragments has been viewed as the early stages of the quest for the historical Jesus.

Gotthold E. Lessing

Reimarus influenced Lessing, and who in turn, affirmed a tension between the relationship of history and revelation. Lessing states this as “the ugly broad ditch”; namely, “accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason [and revelation].”[12] For Lessing, a Spinozan pantheistic deist, there is no supernaturalism in the world. So, events are fortuitous (accidental) and have no meaning/significance of themselves. Why, because like Spinoza, Lessing argues that since God is immanent and extends throughout creation, he naturally governs the world with its unbreakable natural law. Accordingly, supernatural activity (miracles, providence, etc) is impossible because to do so would violate his own nature as expressed in natural law. Thus, miracles are impossible and God does not reveal himself in history. Thus, Jesus the real-person (a posteriori) is not associated with the faith-truth as the Christ (a priori) by definition. In fact, no religious claim can be absolutely true.

Lessing’s argument, however, presumes that “natural law” is inflexible. A further problem in Lessing’s epistemology is its self-defeating agnosticism that not only arbitrarily forces a divide between history and truth. For, in order to make the observation (a posteriori) that history and value (a priori) are detached from one another, Lessing must make an absolute value statement based on how history and value relate to each other historically. So, Lessing is doing what his thesis says is impossible to do: to intertwine history and evaluative judgments.

Immanuel Kant

This is essentially the same fundamental flaw in Immanuel Kant’s agnosticism (that he knows that one can perceive but not know a thing in itself). Again, Kant says,

We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though to be sure it pertains to every human being.[13]

People only know what they think they know, and what they know is not necessarily true “in itself.” This is the tension of his contradictions (“antinomies”) which, therefore, force him to reject a priori (and ontologically) arguments for believing a thing to be true in itself. For example, what is logically necessary, is not actually necessary.[14] Consequently, the Bible is not the result of God adapting to human finiteness (which is logically necessary) but is instead a book of mythology. It is not actually necessary that the Bible be from God, and such a truth claim is only a perception. Instead, what has more logical value and tangible significance to Kant is one’s duty to their neighbor.[15] Thus, the events of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels, then, is a subjective statement of a spiritual truth-claim that Jesus is the Christ of faith.

In order for Kant to make this claim (that we only know perceptions, no what is real in-itself), he is must make an absolute truth (a priori) claim in a world that he has argued can only be perceived in a subjective manner. Kant self-defeats himself by crossing the divine he denies is possible cross. Would not the argument, “I know for certain that it is impossible to know a thing in itself” argue that Kant knows this as a historical truth claim in itself? Kant derails himself.

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard argued for a dichotomy which “real history” is unimportant to faith, or rather, that it is impossible to move from the historical toward the spiritual. Kierkegaard finds no causation between a historical event and meaning (its value, or truth). In fact, this is his great paradox when it comes to truth claims since human knowledge is unable to have certainty about meaning and significance. Thus, for example, spiritual truth is beyond human rationality. For Kierkegaard seeking how to explain or understand the nature of God, one enters a paradox/contradiction. The act to explain the nature of God, is in effect, to limit a full understanding of God. To be certain about something is to limit what can be known about something.

In this sense faith —in particular, Christian faith— is a different beast altogether, for it carries within it a built-in certainty to its truth claims. In Kierkegaard’s view, it is purely nonsense that by understanding what happens in history (Jesus of history), one can obtain knowledge of the contradiction — the non-historical (Jesus of faith). Therefore, fact and history are not as important to Kierkegaard as the “leap of faith.” The problem is, as Geisler sums up, “while the historical as such does not bring one into contact wth the eternal, neither can the eternal be divorced from real history.”[16] Yet, Kiekergaard’s case proves too much on this point, for “the shift in emphasis from fact to value leads to the denial of fact and its support of faith.” It is not that all of his observations are to be dismissed, but he undermines the role of fact to understand value-claims.

Martin Kähler

Martin Kähler, who builds on Kant, also voiced his concern that the “real Christ” is not the Christ of Faith. This point is easily misunderstood. Kähler rightly argued that historical research should inform faith, so he was loved by liberals but hated by conservatives. Kähler also rejected attempts to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith and was loved by conservatives and hated by liberals. He served, therefore, as a middle ground historical critic, who was “loved” and “hated” by conservative and liberals but for different reasons. Kähler coined the phrases “historical Jesus” (historische) and “historic Jesus” (geschichtliche), yet what he meant by the terms is not how most employ the term today. The “historical Jesus,” according to Kähler is a reconstructed Jesus based on scholarship which may, or may not correspond to the “historic Jesus” — that is, the real-life Jesus. Kähler took issue with equation the two.[17]

It came down to two problems. First, there is limited knowledge, or the lack thereof, to sufficiently “reconstruct” Jesus. Second, believers are at the mercy of the “fluid results” of scholarly reconstructions about Jesus. Jesus was, therefore, mediated by the elite scholars. For this reason, Kähler declares, “the real Christ, that is, the influential Christ, with whom millions in history have had fellowship in a childlike faith… is the preached Christ.”[18] The proclaimed Christ solved this problem. For this reason, Kähler made a distinction between the “historical Jesus” from the “historic Jesus.”

The line he draws on this point, between the two, is too strong and undermines the fact that the New Testament builds its case upon sources which are built on eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3). Even if one were to argue that there is a minimal amount of authentic evidential sources about Jesus, then to that degree a faithful reconstruction of the historic Jesus can be made and understood. Which in many respects is the case for everything that could be said about Jesus of Nazareth has not been recorded (John 20:30; 21:25).

Rudolf Bultmann

One of the most significant contributors to the dichotomy of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is Bultmann. Bultmann’s significance for New Testament criticism and theology are, according to Ricard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, equaled by few and excelled by none in the areas of form-criticism and the practice of demythologizing the New Testament.[19] Working on his form-critical methodology, Bultmann differentiated between the sayings of Jesus and the deeds of Jesus (e.g. Reimarus), between the pre-scientific worldview of Jesus’ day and today, and the fact that to accept this worldview would be to sacrifice one’s intellect. Thus, he argued for a non-historical symbolism based upon kerygmatic (proclamation) themes.

What matters from the New Testament point of view, he argued, are the transcendent truths of faith (existential meaning). Thus, the resurrection “myth” did not happen, but what matters is the transcendent truth the “resurrection” is suppose to provide.[20] However, form-criticism, when properly applied is about finding genres and even sub-genres of types of literature within a text(s). It is not inherently anti-supernatural as Bultmann wielded it. In one way, it is a tool for genre classification. In another, it provides the framework for what tools an exegete may require for interpretation.[21]

Yet, Bultmann infused his approach with a naturalism which rejects the supernatural by definition. Consequently, at the methodological level, Bultmann begs the question that miracles are not possible and builds an interpretive framework in which miracles do not make sense. However, if one employs a theistic worldview that leaves the possibility open that miracles are possible,[22] then Bultmann’s approach would not have created his mythological approach to understanding Jesus, which his student Ernst Kasemann viewed as docetic.

Ancient Sources on Jesus of Nazareth

Turning now to consider sources within the New Testament canon and those outside the New Testament canon. The New Testament documents clearly emphasize a concern for and establish the historical underpinnings of the gospel message. It is the presentation of Jesus as a historic, and not mythic, figure which leads Edward M. Blaiklock to affirm that “Christianity triumphed over its most serious opponent, the soldiers’ worship of the soldierly Mithras, largely because Christianity could oppose to the legendary Mithras the historical reality of Christ.”[23]

Canonical Christian Sources

Broadly, though, there are three tests of historicity, according to James P. Moreland, that establish that New Testament documents are “as reliable as, superior to, most other ancient documents.”[24] These general tests are: bibliographical tests, internal tests, and external tests.

First, is the bibliographical test, which establishes the number of extant manuscripts and how far removed they are from the originals. In the case of the New Testament documents, the extant Greek manuscript copies exceed 5,000 (not including quotations, ancient translation, lectionaries), in fragmentary or complete form, many of which are from the second-century. In this regard, the New Testament is the most attested document of the ancient world.[25]

Second, the internal tests evaluate any claims of representing eyewitness history. The Gospel accounts and Acts reflect eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4; 3:1-2; ). Luke tells us explicitly that his Gospel is in keeping with three aspects of early Christian testimony: preexisting accounts, earliest eyewitness testimony, and those who served to deliver the Word to the world. Moreover, Luke chronicles his involvement as a collaborator with Paul (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-38, 28:1-10). The letters reflect personal encounters with Jesus (1 John 1:1-4; 2 Pet 1:16-17; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:1-11), or with those close to first-generation disciples of Jesus (Gal 1:18-19; 2:1-14).

Third, the external test verifies if there is material evidence to confirm the reliability of the document. Edwin M. Yamauchi demonstrates that despite a long-standing skepticism against the historicity of New Testament, there are numerous significant and “insignificant” confirmation of the social, political, and geographical background of the New Testament and demonstrates the literary source to be reliable.[26] One instance may illustrate these observations. In Acts 18:12-17,  Paul stands before the tribunal of the governor (proconsul) of Greece (Achaia), one L. Junius Gallio. There is an inscription was found from Delphi with Gallio’s name on it. Most likely it refers to his proconsulship during July 51 to July 52, which means Paul’s year-and-a-half stay began a year or so before this time (ca. 50-51).[27]

Non-Christian Sources

The other side of this issue is ancient testimony outside of the New Testament. Rudolf Bultmann belief that the quest for the historical Jesus lacked non-Christian sources. He ignored Christian sources specifically because they eyewitness documents which he believed inserted legendary and mythological elements, and therefore, cannot be trusted. While the extant sources are not all the kinds which a historian might like (legal documentation, birth records, etc.), what is available serve as independent literary reinforcement of that Jesus of History and Christ of faith are one interwoven as one figure.

E. M. Blaiklock surveys the sort of extant ancient sources available from the first-century. The majority of which are not focused on the region of Judea nor on history. In fact, he writes, “Bookends set a foot apart on this desk where I write would enclose the works from those significant years. Curiously, much of it comes from Spanish emigrants in Rome.”[28] Yet, what is available impressively corroborates with the historical framework of the New Testament and the significance they assert for Jesus of Nazareth.

Non-Christian sources, moreover, may be grouped into six categories of various weight and detail.[29] There are ancient historians (Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Thallus), government official correspondence between (Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian), Jewish sources (Talmudic references to Jesus, Toledoth Jesu document), other Gentile sources which do not speak favorably of Christianity (Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion), and gnostic sources (Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, Treatise on Resurrection). The latter certainly have their theological slants, but they to point to Jesus as a historical figure.

Of these non-Christian sources, two sources will receive particular attention: first-century references to Jesus in the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (ca. AD 56-121) and Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (ca. AD 37-100).

Cornelius Tacitus

Tacitus was a Friend of Pliny and Suetonius. He began writing history in AD 98 with a volume about his father-in-law, Argicola, and another about Germany, Germania. Then early in the second-century, Tacitus published two more volumes, Histories (ca. AD 100-109) and Annals (ca. AD 109-116).[30] The Histories focus on the political troubles of Rome during A.D. 69-96, including the destruction of Jerusalem (Histories 5). The Annals chronicle the reign of Augustus to Nero (AD 14-68). In describing the depravity of the Caesars, Tacitus digresses with a note about the burning of Rome:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. (Annals 15.44)[31]

Robert L. Wilken explains the usage of the term “superstition” (Lat. superstitio) in its common and familiar sense, “the term superstition referred to beliefs and practices that were foreign and strange to the Romans… that had penetrated the Roman world from surrounding lands.”[32] This is how Tacitus and other Romans felt about such groups.

More to the point, Tacitus is a Roman historian with no interest in proving Jesus existed; however, he knew the basic facts of his death as he “suffered the extreme penalty” and during the proper time frame and location while Pilate was procurator in Judea (AD 26–36).

Flavius Josephus

Flavius Josephus is a self-described first-century Pharisee and Jewish rebel during the early Jewish rebellion against Rome, who surrendered to Rome.[33] He wrote of the Jewish and Roman dynamics of the Jewish War provides a retelling of Jewish history in Antiquities of the Jews, an autobiography (Vita), and a defense of Judaism (Against Apion). There are three references in his works which are of interest, Antiquities 18:63-64, 18.116-119 and 20.200. The latter two are rather straightforward as they reference John the Baptist and James the brother of Jesus.

The first reference is Antiquities 18.116–117, in which John the Baptist is mentioned:

Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.

The reference is strikingly similar to the way the Gospel accounts outline the fate of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29).

The second reference is Antiquities 20.200, in which the Christian leader, James, is mentioned in passing as a digression to Josephus’s discussion of Ananus’s ambition to exercise his authority. Josephus mentions him as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ… James”:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was put upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and, when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.

Jesus is James’s “famous” brother. The Gospel accounts describe Jesus as having siblings (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 6:42) and the apostle Paul acknowledged James as “the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19). Interestingly, Origen (ca. 184-253) comments on this reference, “though he [Josephus] did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great” (Comm in Matt 10.17).[34]

The third reference, known as the Testimonium Flavianum (18:63-64), is complicated by Josephus’ favorable description of Jesus. The passage includes such descriptions of that question whether one should call Jesus “a man,” “he was [the] Christ,” “a doer of wonderful works,” “for he appeared to them [the disciples] alive again the third day,” and “as the divine prophets had foretold.” The textual strength of the passage is strong, but it appears to be out of balance with what is know about Josephus’s belief about Jesus (Origen above).

Origen, who appears knowledgeable of this material in Josephus, curiously does not seize upon the passage as it stands today. Eusebius appears to be the first ancient author to cite the testimonium in its present form (Ecclesiastical History 1.11).[35] James South argues, along with many scholars, that this passages is evidence of a tampering with the passage, the “culprit” most likely being an unknown Christian scribe.[36] The general approach, then, is to redact the passage to eliminate the positive language from the passage.[37] Like the following redaction to William Whiston’s translation:

Now, there was about this time, Jesus a wise man. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Nevertheless, historical scholarship agrees that Josephus said something about Jesus here. What is clear, though, is that Josephus, a premier historian of first-century Judea is fully aware of Jesus, as he is aware of Pilate, Herod, John the Baptist, and James.

Concluding Thoughts

A study like this needs to come to a sense of balance with regards to objectivity. Norman Geisler reminds that “if objective means, ‘a fair but revisable presentation that reasonable men and women should accept,’ then the door is open to the possibility of objectivity.”[38] The goal has been to cross the impassable epistemic gulf believed to exist between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. It is believed that the goal has been reached. There are just a few general observations which should be made in conclusion. First, E. P. Sanders makes an important point and warning about sifting through the available sources concerning Jesus:

Ancient history is difficult. It requires above all common sense and a good feel for sources. Our sources contain information about Jesus, but we cannot get at it by dogmatically deciding that some sentences are completely accurate and some are fiction. The truth will usually lie somewhere in between. As I have already said more than once, and may repeat several more times, we have very good knowledge of Jesus at a somewhat general level. With regard to chronology, we know that he was active during some part of the period 26-36 C.E. It is wrongheaded to try to turn the gospels – and, for that matter, Josephus – into modern encyclopaedia [sic] articles, or to suppose that one sentence is dead right, and the others are completely wrong.[39]

Only when we seek to establish by the ancient evidence what can be established historically, then we are in the position to intertwine reliable history (a posteriori) and the significance (a priori) of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The impossible bridge, then has been made. Second, despite the complexity of historic inquiry, a worldview and framework can be articulated that is objective and not be anti-supernatural.

Third, both Christian and non-Christian sources do provide evidence and information that is objective and informative regarding what was believed to have occurred by eyewitnesses and historians. Finally, at minimum here, it can be affirmed that historical evidence points to Jesus as a “wise man” who “drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles,” died under the proconsulship of “Pilate” who was influenced by the “principal men” among the Jews to condemned Jesus “to the cross;” nevertheless, Jesus had disciples “that loved him at the first who did not forsake” and they are may thought of as “tribe of Christians… so named from him… [and] … are not extinct at this day.” Bridge toll paid.


  1. Unless otherwise stated all quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).

  2. Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 187–228; F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974); Edward M. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ: Man or Myth? (1974; repr. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1984),19–31; Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987), 190–233; Graham N. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University, 1989), 139–49.

  3. C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 39–40.

  4. David L. Lipe, Values in Thought and Action (Henderson, TN: Hester Publications, 2001), 7.

  5. Vergilius Ferm, “Epistemology,” in Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. Lefferts A. Loetscher (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1955), 1:385.

  6. Ferm, “Epistemology,” 386.

  7. Michael Rohlf, “Immanuel Kant,”

  8. Rohlf, “Immanuel Kant.”
  9. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapid, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 401–05.

  10. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 141–42.

  11. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 385–86

  12. Ricard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 102.

  13. Rohlf, “Immanuel Kant.”

  14. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 402.

  15. Lipe, Values, 78.

  16. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 409.

  17. Soulen and Soulen, Biblical Criticism, 92.

  18. Martin Kähler, “Martin Kähler on the Historical Jesus,” in The Christian Theology Reader, 2d ed., ed. Alister E. McGrath (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 294.

  19. Soulen and Soulen, Biblical Criticism, 28, Evans, Apologetics and Philosophy, 18–19.

  20. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 517–18; Colin Brown, “Quest of Historical Jesus,” DJG 334–35.

  21. Stephen H. Travis, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods, ed. I. Howard Marshall (1977; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 153–64.

  22. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 320–30.

  23. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ, 11.

  24. James P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (1987; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988), 133–57.

  25. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 135-37; Philip W. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 103–98.

  26. Edwin Yamauchi, “Archaeology and the New Testament,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gæbelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 1:647–69.

  27. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 545-86; Mark Cartwright, “Corinth,”

  28. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ, 11-12; see, Wayne Jackson, “Jesus Christ: Myth or Genuine History,”
  29. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 187–228; Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 381–85; James T. South, Just Jesus: The Evidence of History, Kindle ed. (Chillicothe, OH: DeWard Publications, 2012), loc. 237–555.

  30. Albert A. Bell, Exploring the New Testament World (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998), 289.

  31. Tacitus, Annals 15.44.

  32. Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 50.

  33. Bell, New Testament World, 289.

  34. Origen, “Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew Book 10.”

  35. Ken Olsen, “Eusebius Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum,”

  36. South writes, “What we have here is likely a legitimate text from Josephus, in which he mentioned Jesus, but which has been re-worked by a Christian editor” (Just Jesus, loc. 318); Charles K. Barrett, New Testament Background: Selected Documents (1956; repr., New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1961), 198.

  37. Olsen, “Eusebius Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum”; Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, 39.

  38. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 320–30.

  39. E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (repr. London: Penguin Books, 1995), 55–56.


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Blaiklock, Edward M. Jesus Christ: Man or Myth? 1974. Repr., Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1984.

Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospel. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity, 1987.

Brown, Colin. “Quest of Historical Jesus.” DJG 326–41.

Bruce, Frederick F. Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974.

Bultmann, Rudolf. History of the Synoptic Tradition. Translated by John Marsh. Revised edition. Repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n.d.

Comfort, Philip W. Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005.

Craig, William Lane. “‘Noli Me Tangere’: Why John Meier Won’t Touch the Risen Lord.”

Evans, C. Stephen. Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.

Evans, Craig A. “Do the New Testament Gospels Present a Reliable Portrait of the Historical Jesus?CTR n.s. 13.2 (Spring 2016): 17–26.

Farnell, F. David. “Three Searches for the ‘Historical Jesus’ but no Biblical Christ: The Rise of the Searches (Part 1).” Master’s Seminary Journal 23.1 (Spring 2012): 7–42.

Farnell, F. David. “Three Searches for the ‘Historical Jesus’ but no Biblical Christ (Part 2): Evangelical Participation in the Search for the ‘Historical Jesus.’” Master’s Seminary Journal 24.1 (Spring 2013): 25–67.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

Ferm, Vergilius. “Epistemology.” Pages 385-87 in vol. 1 of Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Edited by Lefferts A. Loetscher. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1955.

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Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Habermas, Gary R. “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3.1 (Sum 2012): 15–26. Repr.,

Jackson, Wayne. “Jesus Christ: Myth or Genuine.”

Jackson, Wayne. “The Nature of History.”

Kähler, Martin. “Martin Kähler on the Historical Jesus.” Pages 292-95 in The Christian Theology Reader. 2d edition. Edited by Alister E. McGrath. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

Lipe, David L. Values in Thought and Action. Henderson, TN: Hester Publications, 2001.

Moreland, James P. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. 1987. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988.

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Stanton, Graham N. The Gospel and Jesus. Oxford Bible Series. Edited by Peter R. Ackroyd and Graham N. Stanton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Travis, Stephen H. “Form Criticism.” Pages 153-64 in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods. Edited by I. Howard Marshall. 1977. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979.

Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1984.

Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Archaeology and the New Testament.” Pages 647–69 in vol. 1 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank Gæbelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979.