The Historical Jesus

25 December 2005

In The Historical Jesus, Gary Habermas sets out to discover who Jesus Christ was and what he did. Since Habermas is an evangelic Christian, it is not surprising that he comes to the conclusion that Jesus was the son of God, but the evidence he uses to come to this conclusion is of great interest.

The first chapter discusses the history of the “quest for the historical Jesus”. Habermas mentions the works of Bultmann, Barth, and others, leading all the way up to the recent “Third Quest”. This section is interesting for anybody who enjoys history.

Obviously, Jesus must first be known to exist in order for Habermas to effectively discover what kind of life He led. Although it may be a shock to some, a few scholars have proposed and defended the idea that Jesus Christ did not exist as an historical personage. Habermas offers an effective critique of two such scholars- G.A. Wells and Michael Martin. His defense of the existence of Jesus is quite thorough. This chapter is very useful for general readers, as the idea that Jesus never lived is quite popular amongst the atheistic community, even though it has garnered almost no support amongst scholars.

Chapters 3-5 discuss several different interpretations of the life of Jesus. In these chapters, Habermas critiques just about every non-evangelistic interpretation that has ever been proposed. Examples include the swoon theory and “international traveler” theory of Jesus.

The Jesus Seminar is the subject of the 6th chapter. Habermas critiques the assumptions of the Seminar, and he finds that these faulty assumptions lead to the faulty conclusions that the Seminar has produced. This chapter also includes a more detailed critique of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, who are two Seminar fellows with a good deal of influence.

In the first six chapters discussed above, Habermas effectively critiques just about every proposed life of Jesus ever thought up by the atheistic/liberal community. The next five chapters change shifts. In chapters 7-11, Habermas collects and analyzes data from different sources in order to find a coherent and credible life of Jesus.

Chapter 7 identifies and analyzes “creeds and facts” that are found in the New Testament. According to Habermas, certain writings that appear in the New Testament were actually transmitted in oral form before the creation of the New Testament. Thus, creeds are important in understanding what the first Christians thought of Jesus during the time period of 30-50 A.D. Some creeds that Habermas defends and illuminates are 1 Corinthians 15:3ff and Romans 10:9-10.

In Chapter 8 Habermas discusses some archaeological finds that relate to Jesus. This chapter includes a very interesting discussion of the Shroud of Turin. Although he does not cling to it dogmatically, Habermas lays out an impressive case that the Shroud is physical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The next chapter discusses secular documentation of the happenings of Christ’s life. This includes, but is not limited to, Tacitus, Josephus, and Pliny the Younger. He also provides a defense of the authenticity of these passages. The arguments Habermas makes here will be particularly hard for the Christ-mythers to swallow. Chapter 10 discusses Ancient Christian Sources (Non-New Testament). This is followed up by a summary and assessment of all the evidence so far discussed in Chapter 11.

Habermas ends the book with three appendices. The first appendix discusses historiography and its importance to the study of Jesus. The second appendix lays out an apologetic outline for the evangelistic Christian using all of the evidence discussed in the book. The book ends with a selected scholarly bibliography for Non-Christian sources in Appendix 3.

I thought The Historical Jesus was a good book for the intermediate apologist. Some parts of it get repetitive, but that is because Habermas sets up his book in a very straight-forward fashion. I also like how he deals with every theory on Jesus, even those that seem quite bizarre to the onlooker. Habermas also has extensive documentation for any who wish to look further into the subject. Overall, I think this book is a solid apologetic work.


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