Friday, February 17, 2012

Gospel Critics and Gospel Authenticity

Have you observed that the New Testament critics criticize the four Gospels when they are too similar – they claim that they borrowed from each other and therefore do not represent four independent accounts – but then they also criticize them because they are dissimilar (John vs. the Synoptics).

Jesus made a similar observation about the critics of His day. They criticized both John’s seriousness and Jesus’ merriment:

  • “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners."  (Luke 7:33-34)
According to Jesus, these critics weren’t motivated by a desire to understand but rather by a hatred of the light.

We often find this same critical spirit underlying many disputes. Regarding Jesus’ belief about His own identity: Some critics allege that if Jesus believed He was the Messiah, He would have stated this fact more plainly. Meanwhile, other critics charge that the Gospels are overly plain, contrived by the early Greek-speaking church to bring Jesus’ words into conformity with their own messianic beliefs. Consequently, the Gospels are poor in terms of the actual words of Jesus and rich in the words and concepts of the early church. As a result, their contrived Jesus conveniently believed Himself to be both Messiah and God.

However, Orthodox Jewish scholar, David Klinghoffer, represents a more balanced position. In Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, he tries to justify the Jewish rejection of Jesus:

  • “If he [Jesus] ever preached his messiahship openly, why did none of the Gospels record this? It stands to reason that he did not…[But] to reject Jesus, in his lifetime or after, was to condemn oneself as an unbeliever [according to the New Testament]. This hardly seems fair. You were supposed to acknowledge Jesus in a role he refused to publicly to claim?” (61)

Klinghoffer raises a fair point. Jesus’ teachings weren’t very explicit. Therefore, you can’t indict a man for gambling if there’s no law against it! Nor can you indict the Jews for rejecting Jesus!

Yet Klinghoffer does acknowledge that, privately, Jesus did acknowledge His messiah-ship. Here are the three examples Klinghoffer cited:

1.                  After Peter acknowledged that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus affirmed, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)

2.                  After Caiaphas asked Jesus, “Are you then the Son of God?" Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am."  (Luke 22:70; Mat. 26:64; Mark 14:62)

3.                  After the Samaritan woman at the well mentioned the Messiah, Jesus responded, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:26. To these acknowledgments—as opposed to directly preaching that He was the Messiah—can be added numerous other passages—John 5:16-28; John 8:28; John 10:24-38; Mark 13:26; 14:64)

Ironically, these passages and other equally cryptic passages demonstrate the authenticity of the Gospels:

1.                  The early church wouldn’t have concocted these subtle references of Jesus acknowledging His messiah-ship, as the skeptics allege regarding the Gospel accounts. Instead, the church would have fabricated verses where Jesus would have preached His divine identity loud and clear.

2.                  All four Gospels preserve equally cryptic expressions regarding Jesus’ self-disclosures, even while they record very different incidents and sermons. Why didn’t the enthusiasm of the Apostles commandeer their pen to craft more direct and compelling disclosures? Their concern for accurate reporting evidently trumped their enthusiasm and theological concerns!

3.                  In addition to this, the Gospels preserve the same cryptic, parabolic quality in Jesus’ teachings about other essential doctrines. He never taught clearly or exhaustively on the New Covenant – words that the early church would most assuredly have placed in His mouth. Only in the end did He explicitly refer to a New Covenant (Mat. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20. Although the Gospel of John doesn’t explicitly mention Jesus bringing the “New Covenant,” this concept may be conveyed in the idea that Jesus is the new Temple, suggesting that He is replacing the Old – John 1:14; 2:19)

Klinghoffer believes that Jesus’ indirect self disclosures reflect His uncertainty about His calling. However, in keeping with Jesus’ strategy, He often commanded those healed to keep the lid on the light. Also, He was hesitant about giving His opponents the quotable ammunition they wanted to bring charges and crucify Him before His time. By explicitly saying, “I am the Messiah,” or “I am God,” Jesus would have served Himself up into an eager Pharisaic platter.

Klinghoffer is wrong for another reason. His veiled manner of speech could not have been a cloak for uncertainty. He purposely talked in perplexing parables so that only His chosen ones would understand (Matthew 13:10-15). And they could only understand once Jesus explained the parables to them. The early church would never have invented such perplexing speech in order to support their theology.

And what about Klinghoffer’s claim that Jesus’ countrymen couldn’t be held accountable for something that He never clearly preached? Jesus explains it best:

  • “If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.” (John 15:24)     

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