“Jesus of Testimony” – New Documentary Testifies to the Historicity of Jesus Christ

First below, I’ve posted the trailer (3:34) for this new documentary, and then the documentary (2:14:34) itself.

Jesus Of Testimony Trailer from Nesch Bros on Vimeo.

Jesus Of Testimony from Nesch Bros on Vimeo.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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)

The Jesus of Testimony FaceBook page

ht: The Poached Egg (Ratio Christi)

Internet Claim That Jesus Is Like Mithras Debunked by J Warner Wallace and Chad at Truthbomb Apologetics

Atheists on the Internet say the strangest things.  One of these strange ideas is that belief in Jesus was spawned by belief in the ancient deity Mithras.

This 350-word post will put to rest any concern you have about this foolish notion and fortify you for your likely eventual encounter on the Internet with someone who firmly and fiercely believes it – if you have not already encountered such a person.

The Old Testament and Other Ancient Religious Literature by Rick Wade

This 2,200-word post by Rick Wade describes how the Old Testament is both similar to and different from other literature of its time and place.  Ancient Israel was part of an age and location often referred to as the Ancient Near East (ANE).  For this reason you will often see references to “ANE literature” or “ANE culture.”  This usually refers to ancient Israel and the surrounding nations.

Here’s how Rick begins:

In the 1870s a scholar named George Smith revealed the discovery of both creation and flood stories in ancient Babylonian literature.{1} Bible scholars were soon claiming that the writer of Genesis was merely borrowing from Babylonian mythology. Although competent scholars have since shown that the similarities between these accounts are largely superficial, the idea remains today in certain areas of academia and pop culture that the Bible is just another work of ancient mythology.

The article continues at Greg West at The Poached Egg (Ratio Christi)

The point I would add to this article is that Israel’s perception of God was true while the surrounding nations would have corruptions of the truth.  That is, Adam (and later Noah) knew the truth and his descendants either kept to it or wandered from it.  Israel (through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) adhered to His truth and therefore received more of it.  (“To him who has shall more be given, and he will have an abundance; but to him who does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him” – Matthew 13:12 and elsewhere.)

The lesson for us is to cling to what God has shown us of Himself that He might show us more.  Otherwise, we will lapse back into our blindness and deafness to Him.

The First Two Emperors of Rome Their Impact on the New Testament

This article gives background on

Caesar Augustus (B.C. 27 – A.D. 14)

and

Tiberius Caesar Augustus (A.D. 14-37)

From the conclusion:

        It is amazing when one looks at how God can use people, who at first glance seem so distant from Jesus and the Jewish people, to make such crucial things in his plan come about. While we have only looked at two of the twelve emperors that ruled during the New Testament era, we could certainly have looked at more of them and found that they made a notable impact on the events and people in the New Testament. Nero, for instance, is believed to been the one who put Peter and Paul to death and to start a massive persecution against the Christians after he himself burned down a large section of Rome so that he might extend his palace!

Full article:  The First Two Emperors of Rome Their Impact on the New Testament.

Why Did the Ancient Greeks and Romans Stop Believing in Their Gods?

Why did the ancient Greeks and Romans stop believing in their gods?  is a question on Quora.com.  (This link will take you directly to this question on Quora.)  Two helpful answers to be found there (and there may be others) are from Panagiotis Limnios and Tim O’Neill.  They are giving the earthly perspective on that time period.

For those of you not signed up for Quora, here are excerpts – first from Tim’s answer:

Most ancient religion was more about communal practice than private, personal belief. People practised the religion of their community, their region and their political state and did so to ensure the gods they honoured protected them and sustained their communities.

Which gods you worshipped was, therefore, as much a function of where you lived, who your community (city, village, social class) worshipped and what religion was favoured by the state.You didn’t believe that other gods didn’t exist or that their cults were wrong, they were simply not as relevant to you.

Christianity changed all this by bringing in a far more exclusivist idea of religion from its parent religion, Judaism. To the Christians, the other gods weren’t just irrelevant, they were non-existent. Other cults weren’t just not useful, they were evil. This was one of the things which brought Christianity into conflict with the Roman state, which saw them as an insult to the protective gods of the Empire and therefore a threat to the state.

And here’s an excerpt from Panagiotis’ answer:

I’m surprised no one mentioned scripture, or, to be more precise, the lack of it.

Unlike Christianity, older religions had no authoritative text for people to draw inspiration or guidance from. Religious practice was dictated by custom, lacked completely a dogma and was so intertwined with ordinary social activities that it was indistinguishable from daily life.

The closest thing the ancient Greeks and Romans had to a Bible was Hesiod’s Theogony, and even that was by no means a comprehensive work since it dealt mostly with the story of their origin. There were so many gods, minor gods, deities and heroes, 30,000 according to Hesiod, that nobody even bothered to list them. People were simply content with praying to the few common gods of their family and community without worrying about making sense of it all.

Christianity not only polarized people by bringing “a far more exclusivist idea of religion” from Judaism (quote from Tim O’Neill), but it was also built from the ground up on scripture…

Of course, the spiritual backdrop of this era is the creation of new heavens and new earth prophesied in the Bible (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1) in which the heavenly powers which had fostered polytheism were deposed.  Since then, monotheism has prevailed.  For more biblical explanation of this, see Whatever Became of Jesus Christ?

Truly, as King Nebuchadnezzar learned, heaven rules in the affairs of men (Daniel 4:26).

Shelby Foote on the Roman View of History

Shelby Foote (1916-2005) was a novelist and historian whose magnum opus was a three-volume narrative of the America Civil War that took him two decades to research and write.  That single work took up 3,000 pages, which amounts to some 1,500,000 words.  (An average non-fiction book might be 75,000 words; on that basis, his tome was the equivalent of 20 books.)

Throughout his life, Foote was a voracious reader of quality literature, as familiar with Homer and Shakespeare as he was writers closer to his own time.  Given his reading and research achievements, his view of Roman history is worth noting.  First, because it explains his own style, and, second, because its helps explain the Gospels.

Foote once told a Paris Review interviewer that he subscribed to the Roman belief that “history was intended to publicize, if you will, the lives of great men so that we would have something to emulate.”

Foote mentioned that he had been reading Tacitus over and over. “Tacitus writes about high-placed scoundrels. He’s so damned good. He said that he wrote so that people would be ashamed of bad things and proud of good things.”

(Source: Shelby Foote. – Slate Magazine)

Elsewhere, it has been recorded:

Facts, Mr. Foote said, are the bare bones from which truth is made. Truth, in his view, embraced sympathy, paradox and irony, and was attained only through true art. “A fact is not a truth until you love it,” he said.

(Source: New York Times obituary of Mr. Foote)

Given that the Gospels were written at the height of the Roman Empire, therefore, it should not be surprising to us that they take the shape that they do.  Many skeptics today reject the Gospels because they don’t address the subject as a modern biographer would.  People who expect ancient writers to conform to modern literary styles might as well ask why Hannibal marched over the Alps when he could have taken a plane.

The Jewish Context for What Jesus Said about Hell – Scot McKnight on Edward Fudge

Opening paragraph:

For many people today what one believes about hell is a matter of fidelity to orthodoxy. Most don’t quite want to contend that if you don’t believe in eternal, conscious punishment you are a heretic though some get mighty close. In fact, for some the gospel itself is shaped to get people out of (a theory for) hell that is about eternal, conscious punishment. In other words, change hell you might change the whole gospel for these sorts. So, when Edward Fudge, in his many writings, including Hell: A Final Word, contends the Old Testament only teaches consuming fire and not an eternal conscious punishment, some stridently warn him of falling off the “faithful cliff.”

via The Jewish Context for What Jesus Said about Hell.

An Introduction to the Septuagint, the Old Testament in Greek

Opening paragraph:

In our readings from Justin in the past and coming weeks, Justin makes a spirited case for Christianity on the basis of the Old Testament. Though Justin had access to the “memoirs of the apostles,” which likely included the Gospel of John, the Scriptures that became the New Testament had not yet been canonized and collected, so it is not surprising that Justin relies on the Old Testament. Since he was writing in Greek, Justin did not read the Old Testament in Hebrew, but in Greek. In two notable passages, which we’ll take up in a moment, Justin describes how the Old Testament was translated into Greek and the difference that made for Christian theology.

via An Introduction to the Septuagint, the Old Testament in Greek | Read the Fathers.