“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)

Whatever Became of the “Jesus Manifesto” Essay?

In June of 2009, successful and prolific Christian authors Leonard (Len) Sweet and Frank Viola published a 2,400-word essay on the Internet that they titled A Jesus Manifesto.  Their fuller title was:

A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Jesus Christ

a.k.a.

A Jesus Manifesto for the 21st Century Church

A copy of the original essay is not easy to find (and I’ll say more about that in a bit), but here is a copy of it on Frank Viola’s blog, here is a copy of it [Editorial note 12/24/14: link no longer working; doesn’t appear anywhere on Sweet’s blog though he does list it in his biography] on Leonard Sweet’s blog,  and here is a copy of it as it appeared on June 25, 2009).  (I assume all these copies are identical, but I’m including them all to reduce the risk that it will be lost.)  It will take you about 10 minutes to read the entire essay (and I encourage you to do so), but here are some quotes from it to quickly give you a sense of its message and tone:

Christians have made the gospel about so many things . . . things other than Christ.

What is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the “good news” that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person. Biblical community is founded and found on the connection to that person.

We believe that the major disease of the church today is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The person of Jesus is increasingly politically incorrect, and is being replaced by the language of “justice,” “the kingdom of God,” “values,” and “leadership principles.”

This essay was a clarion call to repentance and faith in Christ, and received half a million views in just eight weeks.  This call was issued not to unbelievers, but to believers.  This September 2009 interview of the authors by seasoned Christian radio host and seminary professor Steve Brown (32:27) shows that indeed their experience was that of prophets delivering a message of truth to a people whose hearts had been hardened.

The authors came out with a book with the same name in 2010.  The original online essay, which had received the half a million views in its first eight weeks, has been replaced by the book’s website.  This new website is essentially a marketing vehicle for the book, including a press kit with suggested interview questions and advertisements for other books by the authors.  The FaceBook page, mentioned in the radio interview, has been taken down.  It appears that all interested traffic is being directed to the new book website.

The original essay seemed to stir many hearts and provoke genuine repentance.  What happened to that spirit?  Where has it gone?

The book received some glowing reviews on Amazon, but if you go to Len’s or Frank’s websites, it seems to just be another of the books they have written.

Do I object to their earning royalties from their books?  No.  What I’m wondering is what has become of the great spontaneous response that the original essay seemed to provoke?  What caused the transition from incendiary tract to tame book?

P.S. A similar dynamic can be seen in the YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”

Who is Jesus? by Norton Herbst

Herbst opens:

Jesus was a first century carpenter. What made him so influential 2,000 years later?

I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison.

-Napoleon

Whether Jesus was a mere man or God incarnate is debatable. That he has had a greater influence on human history than any other person is not really.

via Who is Jesus?.

Quote from Phil Long Book on Jesus as the Bridegroom

Did Jesus claim to be the “bridegroom”? If so, what did he mean by this claim? When Jesus says that the wedding guests should not fast “while the bridegroom is with them” (Mark 2:19), he is claiming to be a bridegroom by intentionally alluding to a rich tradition from the Hebrew Bible. By eating and drinking with “tax collectors and other sinners,” Jesus was inviting people to join him in celebrating the eschatological banquet. While there is no single text in the Hebrew Bible or the literature of the Second Temple Period which states the “messiah is like a bridegroom,” the elements for such a claim are present in several texts in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea. By claiming that his ministry was an ongoing wedding celebration he signaled the end of the Exile and the restoration of Israel to her position as the Lord’s beloved wife. This book argues that Jesus combined the tradition of an eschatological banquet with a marriage metaphor in order to describe the end of the Exile as a wedding banquet.

from Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels by Phillip J. Long

HT:  Jim West blog (Zwinglius Redivivus) of December 10, 2013 and December 19, 2013

Publisher’s catalog listing for the book (from which the quote was taken): Wipf and Stock Publishers.

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Here’s one of the nine:

All the books of the Old Testament except Esther, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are quoted or referenced in the New Testament. Jesus quoted or made references from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, 1 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi.

via 9 Things You Should Know About the Bible – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

A List of Royal Psalms

The Jewish Study Bible, in its notes on Psalm 2defines “royal psalms” as “those concerning kings.”  It goes on to say that “None [of them] mentions a specific king by name, and their origin and uses remain obscure.”  It also gives a “possible list of royal psalms” which is reproduced below.  To the original list I have added italicized elements.  The first to be noticed is that I added the verse citations for any explicit reference to the “king” that appears in the psalm.  Some of the psalms do not make explicit reference to the king as “king,” and, because of this, do not show a verse citation.

Psalm 2:6

Psalm 18:50

Psalm 20:9

Psalm 21:1, 7

Psalm 45:1, 5, 11, 13, 14, 15

*Psalm 61:6

*Psalm 63:11

Psalm 72:1

Psalm 89:18

Psalm 101

Psalm 110

Psalm 132

Psalm 144

*These verses were not on the original list but are included here because they are psalms that include an explicit reference to a “king” who is not God.  I did not include psalms where merely a synonym or allusion to the king appeared (such as Psalm 28, where a reference to “His anointed” occurs in verse 8).  

The original list is from The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press (2004)  p. 1285

Herman Gunkel is a notable scholar of the Psalms.  For more on his classification (upon which the Jewish Study Bible‘s list would seem to be based), see this post.

Donald Juel on Pre-Christian Messianic Texts

Donald Juel here identifies passages from the Old Testament that were deemed to refer to the Messiah even before Jesus of Nazareth was born:

Such “messianic texts” (i.e., acknowledged by a broad spectrum of Jewish groups as references to the coming king from the line of David) include Gen. 49:10- 12; Num. 24:17; 2 Sam. 7:10-14; Zech. 6:12; Isaiah 11; Jeremiah 33; Psalm 2.

Donald Juel. Messianic Exegesis (p. 193). Kindle Edition.