Who's Fooling Who?

Years ago, when I was first entertaining the idea that Christianity might be true, I wandered into our local public library and happened upon an article that claimed Jesus never existed.  He wasn’t a real historical person but just a myth made up by the early Christians.  As I recall, this article was written by a scholar, someone with a Phd. after their name, someone who supposedly knew what they were talking about.  So, I didn’t know who to believe.  Had I been fooled, along with everyone else who believed in Jesus? 

It took a while, but I eventually found out that there is no question among Scripture scholars today of Jesus just being a myth—none at all.  In fact, the most prominent skeptical Scripture scholar of our time, Bart Ehrman, has written a book laying out the overwhelming evidence for Jesus being a real historical person.  He felt the need to do this because so many people are being fooled by books written by scholars from other disciplines who have no expertise in Scripture, or novices on the internet making bogus claims.

While Ehrman doesn’t question whether Jesus existed, or many of the details from the Gospels, he does think the Gospels are unreliable.  Like the telephone game, or rumors gone wild, he believes they are grossly exaggerated, especially when it comes to the central claims of Christian faith.  For example, he doesn’t think that Jesus presented Himself as the divine Son of God who came to die on the Cross for our sins.  Because Ehrman is so prominent, he’s convinced many Christians that they’ve been fooled into believing many things Jesus never claimed about Himself.

However, Scripture scholarship over the past twenty-five years has dramatically shifted and in many ways that vindicate the reliability of the Gospels, leaving many skeptical exegetes life Ehrman behind—for the previous 100 to 150 years many scholars were skeptical of the Gospel’s reliability, but that’s all changing.  I only have time to provide one example where the scholarly consensus is now saying that the evidence supports many of the central claims of Christian faith.

Jesus tells a very strange parable in Mark 12:1-9.  He says that a vineyard owner leases out his vineyard to some tenants and then goes off on a long trip.  When harvest time comes, he sends servants to get his bounty.  But the tenants beat and kill the servants.  The owner then sends more servants, who the tenants promptly beat and kill likewise.  Finally, the vineyard owner decides to send his son—his one and only, beloved son—reasoning that the tenants will respect him.  But, surprise, surprise, they beat and kill the son also, reasoning that, this way, they will get his inheritance instead.

There are many weird twists in the parable, like the owner sending more servants and then even his only son after the tenants killed the first group, or the tenants thinking the owner would give them his beloved son’s inheritance after they kill him!  These strange twists are a clue to the hearer that this isn’t a story about tenant-owner relations.  It’s about God and his vineyard, Israel. (See Isaiah 5:1-7 for the original imagery)  It’s about salvation history.  It’s about God sending many prophets and finally His own dear Son, Jesus, to save His people, us.

The weirdest twist of all in the parable is that the way the parable originally ended, according to the judgment of scholars, is with the shameful death of the son.  The reason this is so significant, the reason it’s convinced most scholars that Jesus had to have told this parable and that the Gospels are reliable in recording it, is because, if it was made up later, after Jesus’ death, it would clearly have contained an allusion to the Resurrection.  It never would have ended with the Beloved Son’s shameful death.  For the early Christians, such a humiliating ending would have been unthinkable. 

But look what the parable shows us about Jesus’ self-awareness: He knew He was going to be put to death and went freely to the Cross anyway; He saw His death as the climax of salvation history, the pivotal moment in God’s activity among His people; and, above all, He saw Himself as the Father’s one and only beloved Son.  This parable clearly shows that Jesus saw Himself as the unique, beloved Son of God, sent to die for the salvation of the World. 

Scholars have unearthed plenty more evidence that substantiates and corroborates that Jesus saw Himself this way, evidence that shows the Gospels are, in essence, historically reliable.

Who’s fooling who?  Anyone who would denies the reliability of the Gospels.  That’s who.

Do you think the Gospels are reliable?  Go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and let me know what you think.  I’d love to hear from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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