21 Myths: Jesus of Faith, Not of History

Myth: The Bible gives us theological insights about Jesus, but not historical ones.

Some people are interested in the Jesus’ religious ideas, but deny that the Bible provides, or even intends to provide, any historical accounts about him. Are they right? Is the Bible meant to be taken seriously as a historical description of Jesus’ life and ministry?

I would suggest that the answer is yes...and no. There are parts of Scripture that are not written as 'history', but are poetic, metaphorical and even mystical. Christians have known, and affirmed this, for millennia. There are other parts of the Bible, however, that are clearly written AS history, with the full expectation that they would be read as true descriptions of past events.

Acts, for instance, is a historical narrative that contains features common to both Jewish and Greco-Roman historical literature. The gospels are also composed with a view to the actual historical life of Jesus and his followers. They are forms of 'biography' that are based on core historical recollections and organized to present a meaningful interpretation of Jesus' public life and lasting significance.

Christians do, however, realize that not all the historical claims about Jesus can, or ever will, be "proven" in any kind of scientific way. This is to be expected. The nature of "faith" is such that it will always invite trust and confidence in the story of the gospel, whether or not all of its claims can be validated by research.

Fields of knowledge like archaeology and history are all imperfect methods of attempting to recapture the past. These disciplines rely on gathering certain kinds of evidence, and then offering hypotheses to explain the evidence. The Bible is a kind of evidence (literary records of the past). Archaeology is another kind (physical objects produced by people in the past, or observed elements of the physical environment that affected people in the past).

The best scholars consider all the evidence in order to make judgments about what 'probably' happened. Of course, there were no smart phones, digital cameras, or satellites in orbit capturing vast amounts of data in the ancient world. So, we can't observe these ancient events like we can watch replays on ESPN today. Historians, then, have to do their best to reconstruct what these events may have looked like.

Christians believe that the kind of historical evidence preserved in the Bible is accurate and reliable, because God had a hand in its composition. This is definitely a 'theological' conviction we hold about the text, and it is NOT verifiable (entirely) through historical or archaeological research.

In fact, there is a healthy amount of both historical and archaeological information that does support the historical claims of the gospels about Jesus – including the existence of Pontius Pilate, specific archaeological evidence identifying locations mentioned in the gospels, and other literary parallels confirming cultural and environmental realities described in the gospels.

On the other hand, there certainly are other historical components of the Scriptures for which archaeology and history offer no support, and may at times seem to oppose. Christians admit this.

But, in cases like this, it is helpful to think in terms of 'suspended judgment'. More evidence may be discovered later. Other theories may explain the apparent contradictions. Or, in the end, we may just end up holding to a historical conviction that ‘history’ cannot validate - like that of a resurrected man who has even now taken his place at God's right hand as Cosmic King and Savior!

The Gospels tell a story about Jesus that is both historical AND theological. This is the kind of tension followers of Jesus have always lived with. We stand as a people within history, living for a God who we believe stands in control of it, and offers us the best interpretation/explanation of it. Thank God for the gracious ways he reveals himself and his message to us – both as history and as theology!

Share this post today to help people in your life who are resisting Jesus by repeating this old myth about him. You can learn more about the 21 Myths in 21 Days blog series by clicking here!

This guest post, written by Dr. Jeff Hubing, is a pastor, scholar, author, and teacher.  Jeff holds a master's degree from Wheaton College Graduate School and a PhD. in New Testament from Loyola University in Chicago.  He is the founder and director of F.I.R.E., a school for training ministers and missionaries in Chicago, Illinois.  His latest book, Crucifixion and New Creation: The Strategic Purpose of Galatians 6:11-17, can be found on Amazon by clicking here.

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