First below, I’ve posted the trailer (3:34) for this new documentary, and then the documentary (2:14:34) itself.
With Easter approaching, this is the time of year when public television and other networks provide documentaries and similar programming about Jesus of Nazareth. Only problem is that these documentaries usually invitge unbelieving biblical scholars to be the experts. Such liberal scholars usually have impressive degrees from schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. While they might not come right out and say that they don’t believe in Jesus, that’s their obvious view – otherwise public television would never have considered them experts, right?
The good news is that the Nesch brothers (whom I otherwise don’t know) have pulled together an impressive set of believing Bible scholars and the result is this documentary: Jesus of Testimony. It’s a welcome antidote to the usual fare I’ve been describing, and I enthusiastically endorse it.
I do love this documentary and recommend it highly. That said, I do have some caveats:
- This documentary may seem long and tedious for anyone not intensely interested in the subject matter. Maybe you should break it up and watch one segment at a time. Each section is certainly meaty enough.
- This documentary might be scratching where you’re not itching; if so, it may seem extra tedious. This documentary will be most appreciated by 1) people who wonder if there is any scholarly support for the history we see recorded in the New Testament, and 2) people who long to hear from biblical scholars who aren’t hostile to the biblical text and biblical ideas. If you don’t fall into either of these two categories, there’s no need to watch this film.
- I had difficulty with the video streaming. Perhaps it was just my connection. I eventually got to the end, but you may want to pay $5.99 for the download to avoid the hassle if it bothers you too much.
- This could be a great documentary to recommend to others who might be curious about historical scholarship about Jesus, but first be sure the warnings above don’t apply. If someone has somehow been unaware of liberal bibical scholarship, why trouble them by bringing them into the argument?
The important point to remember is that this documentary is the other half of the scholarly polemic about Jesus. Liberal scholars are about all the general public ever sees on broadcast television. Therefore, if you wonder why these scholars phrase things and frame things the way they do, recognize that they have to coexist with their antagonistic academic colleagues. Being a believer and a biblical scholar is almost as difficult a professional life as being a believer and a scientist.
The following breakdown of the documentary is taken from the film’s website. Because the film lasts 2:14:34, I have inserted the starting point and duration time for each section so that you can go directly to a particular section that interests you more. I also add some short commentary where I thought it might be helpful. The film begins with a minute-and-a-half segment in which scholar Richard Bauckham lays out the false dichotomy which the film will dispel: that “the Christ of faith” is somehow different from “the Jesus of history.” Bauckham seeks to replace both with the term “the Jesus of Testimony” – hence the name of the film. From the film’s website:
A feature length film exploring the evidence for Jesus’ existence and the reliability of the New Testament gospels.
In Part 1: Lord or Legend [starts at 0:01:30; lasts 0:17:50], the historicity of Jesus Christ is demonstrated by the important non-Christian historical sources that are available to us today. [The documentary starts not with the Bible, but with the evidence outside the Bible. This makes a great beginning to the historical case.]
Part 2: Are the Gospels Reliable? [starts at 0:19:20; lasts 0:41:00] examines the historical reliability of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus. [This is the longest section, but the length is very appropriate and everything here is meaty. You could actually divide this segment into two sections: the history of the Gospels through oral tradition and the history of the Gospel texts. Both sections are worthy of the time they are given. The focus on oral transmission of the life and teachings of Jesus lasts until 0:42:57, which is 23:37 into the segment – the remaining 17:23 is given over to the discussion about written transmission of that information. The reasons for believing what the Gospels tell us – rooted in both a strong oral culture of the 1st Century and an exceedingly abundant chain of textual evidence since then – are quite strong. To the point of the film, the testimony of Jesus is substantial; there is no valid reason to see a conflict between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.]
Part 3: Miracles [starts at 1:00:20; lasts 0:18:18] provides strong evidence that miracles happen today and happened in history. [This segment could have been longer considering the fact that Craig Keener has published extensive research on miracles both ancient and modern.]
In Part 4: The Testimony of Prophecy [starts at 1:18:38; last 0:14:56], many of the Old Testament messianic prophecies are quoted along with their New Testament fulfillments which establish a solid confirmation of Jesus’ credentials as the Messiah. [There were good graphics of the relevant Scriptures in this segment – that is, Old Testament prophecies matched with New Testament fulfillments. However, they are not matched to the audio and so it’s hard to follow what’s written and what’s spoken at the same time. Michael Brown – a Jewish believer and scholar – is used very effectively in this segment.]
In Part 5: The Resurrection – Fact or Fiction? [starts at 1:33:34; lasts 27:29] the case is presented for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. [The scholars talk a lot about crucifixion as well as resurrection; problems because of the Quran which says Jesus never really died. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona have devoted practically their entire careers to establishing the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, so they make this segment particularly strong.]
Finally, Part 6: The Good News [starts at 2:01:03; lasts 0:11:57] concludes that the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels, dependent on eyewitness testimony, is more plausible than the alternative hypotheses of its modern detractors and presents the Jesus’ message of the Gospel. [Some of the scholars speak quite personally in this short section. The music is helpful, and the effect is appropriately uplifting.]
Credits [start at 2:13:00; lasts 00:01:34]
As I’ve said, if you don’t enjoy listening to scholars talk, you could find the film quite tedious. That said, the 11 scholars participating in the project bring great content to the screen. I have read most of them in the past and recommend their work. Moreover, the directors add useful narration and helpful graphics at key points. Here are the scholars interviewed:
Richard Bauckham – New Testament scholar, author, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
Craig Blomberg – New Testament scholar, author, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
Greg Boyd – pastor of Woodland Hills Church, author, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition [co-author with Paul Eddy, listed below]
Michael Brown – PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, author, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus : Volume 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections [This is but one of five books in a series on Jewish objections; Brown is a Jew]
Paul Eddy – PhD from Marquette University, author, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition [co-author with Greg Boyd, listed above]
Steve Gregg – Bible teacher, radio talk show host, The Narrow Path
Gary Habermas – PhD in History and Philosophy of Religion, author, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ
Craig Keener – PhD in New Testament and Christian Origins, author, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts
Michael Licona – PhD in New Testament Studies, author, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach
Dan Wallace – PhD in New Testament Studies, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
Ben Witherington – PhD from University of Durham, England, author, The Jesus Quest
More detail on each of these scholars can be found on the About page of the documentary’s website.
The Jesus of Testimony website (which includes the full documentary, available for online viewing without cost)