Introduction to Areopagus Journal Vol. 3 No. 3 / May-June 2003

by Craig Branch-

One of the best-known contemporary apologetic works, which has positively influenced skeptics toward faith, is C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. In it, he posits the great trilemma to the effect that, based on the evidence, Jesus Christ was either “liar, Lord, or lunatic.” One contemporary skeptical claim that Lewis didn’t address was that the accounts of Jesus’ sayings and life were largely legend.

As this issue of the Areopagus Journal is being prepared to send to you, talk shows like Larry King Live and newspaper stories are continuing to focus on and challenge Christianity’s exclusive truth claims. Charges abound of intolerance, fundamentalist dogma breeding hatred, the imposition of religious imperialism, and insensitivity. Of all these charges, the only one that has some merit is the charge of insensitivity. There is a temptation to “speak the truth” and neglect the rest of the biblical verse: “in love.”

The other charges are illogical because the real issue is whether Christ was who He said and whether the Scriptures and Christianity are true. The question Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?”; and Peter’s response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 16:15-16), indicate the most significant verbal exchange for all mankind, for all of time. Peter’s question is no less relevant today. And the answer one gives to the question has eternal significance.

Because the identity of Jesus is such an essential apologetic issue, and because it is closely connected to another crucial issue—the inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of the Scripture, we are devoting two issues of our journal to it. [If you d not have our Vol. 2, No. 1, January 2002, issue of the Areopagus Journal, “The Breath of God,” you need to order it.] In these two journals, “Jesus: Legend or Lord?” parts one and two, we have enlisted several of the finest New Testament Scholars to address the attacks on the historicity and authenticity of the claims of Christ and the Scriptures.

The most recent and substantial of these attacks have come in the last fifteen years through various liberals, Muslim apologists (who borrow chiefly from Jehovah’s Witness materials and from liberal writers and skeptics) and a relatively small group called the Jesus Seminar. Using faulty criteria, they voted that John contained nothing authentic about Jesus and Mark contained only one verse that was authentic. The media provides plenty of space to them, usually in an unbalanced way. For example, here in Birmingham, Alabama, the heart of the Bible belt, the local newspaper sported a major headline reporting on the first findings of the Jesus Seminar: “Group rules out 80% of Jesus’ Words.” Also featured was the subtitle, “Formed to counteract literalist views of the Bible, the Jesus Seminar is a group of mainline biblical scholars from all over the United States.”

But the skeptical coverage is not to limited to local news stories. The three major news magazines, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report all had the temerity to publish major cover stories attacking the authenticity of Jesus’ life and message on Easter Sunday (April 8, 1996). The Time cover read, “The Search for Jesus: Some scholars are debunking the gospels. Now traditionalists are fighting back. What are Christians to believe?” Once the Scriptures are impugned, the entire validity of the message itself is the next to go. The Newsweek cover story read, “Rethinking the Resurrection: A New Debate About the Risen Christ.”

Cable programming (Discovery Channel, History Channel) regularly produces specials depicting the work of the Jesus Seminar fellows as authoritative. Even ABC produced a two hour prime time program utilizing three Jesus Seminar scholars and only one conservative, N. T. Wright, and they edited him to make it look like he was agreeing with the theories of the Jesus Seminar. Could this type of coverage, constantly beamed into the minds of Americans, account for the Barna research findings on the religious beliefs of Americans? For example, he found that that 43% of Americans now believe that Jesus sinned on the earth and 39% believe Jesus was crucified, but not bodily raised from the dead. Also, Bible reading has declined from 73% to 59% since 1980, and 16% believe that the Gospel of Thomas is part of the New Testament, an undoubted consequence of the teachings of the Jesus Seminar? (See

In this Areopagus Journal issue, New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg (in “The Jesus Seminar: Representative or Radical”) exposes the flawed methodology and findings of the Jesus Seminar. He also demonstrates how idiosyncratic the fringe group of fellows of the Seminar are compared to the overwhelming majority of contemporary scholars. Blomberg particularly addresses the problems with the “Gospel of Thomas.”

Another attack on the Person, work, and message of Christ comes from a group of liberal theologians led by people like Elaine Pagels. Pagels, a professor at Princeton University, claims that scrolls found in the caves near Nag Hammadi revealed another side of Christianity—Gnosticism, which, she claims, the early church tried to suppress. This “scholarship” has helped to fuel new age leaders’ claim for a new age Jesus and message. Dr. Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary contributes and article in this journal (“Jesus, History, and the Four Gospels”) responding to the faulty historical and evidential claims made by Gnostic proponents compared to the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament gospels and their historical portrait Jesus.

A featured story in the December 10, 1990 issue of U. S. News and World Report reflects a theme that popular writers and lecturers like John Shelby Spong continue to regurgitate. The article titled, “Who Wrote the Bible?”, states, “Other scholars have concluded that the Bible is the product of a purely human endeavor, that the identity of the authors is forever lost and that their work has been largely obliterated by centuries of translating and editing. . . .Yet today there are few Biblical scholars—from liberal skeptics to conservative evangelicals—who believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke or John actually wrote the gospels. . . .” Once written “they were redacted or edited, repeatedly and circulated among church elders during the late first and early second centuries (pp. 66f). Spong follows this trend. In his books, Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, Liberating the Gospels, and Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Spong declares, among other revolutionary ideas, that to claim that Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God is the height of arrogance. He imposes an a priori rationalistic human approach and denies that God is omnipotent and that he created the world, the virgin birth of Jesus, demonic attacks (or even the existence of demons), the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the literal second coming of Christ in judgment.

The Apologetics Resource Center recently had the opportunity to co-host a series of lectures by New Testament scholar Dr. Darrell Bock at Samford University and Beeson Divinity School. Dr. Bock presented the historical and evidential case for the claims of Christ and refuted the efforts of liberalism (including the Jesus Seminar) to undermine the biblical view of Jesus. [Note that we have included a review of one of Dr. Bock’s recent books, Studying the Historical Jesus.] We invited a Muslim apologist friend to one of the lectures. During the question and answer session, he challenged the evidence presented, assuming as all Muslims do that the idea of God becoming a man is absurd. Our own staffer and Areopagus Journal editor, Dr. Steve Cowan responds to these rationalistic arguments in his article, “The Word Became Flesh: The Coherence of the Incarnation.” Steve explores the faulty logic of the early church heresies and presents a case for the consistent logic and coherence of the biblical message on the dual nature of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

The evidence for the reliability, inspiration, and infallibility of the Bible is overwhelming—as it should be considering the claims the revelation makes on our lives and the course of life in general. If God has been providentially working in time-space history, and has communicated to us the Way, the Truth, and the Life as the only way of escaping the damning effects of self-induced beliefs and choices, then mankind must face the issue before him, namely, that all human and religious philosophies are ultimately false, leading to death, and that Christianity alone provides eternal life now and forever.

The Scriptures reveal a salvation history with God’s activity and prophetic witness all pointing to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. It is the message that Jesus, God the Son, entered humanity to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God by His crucifixion and bodily resurrection from the grave. These historical events both accomplish salvation and serve as proof of the reliability and infallibility of the Bible, as well as the identity of Jesus as the God-man.

There is more than enough evidence. then, to place the skeptic in the same position that C. S. Lewis’ friend at Yale, Sheldon Vanauken, came to face. He said this about his own decision to follow Christ:

There is a gap between the probable and the proved. How was I to cross it? If I were to stake my whole life on the risen Christ, I wanted proof. I wanted certainty. I wanted to see him eat a bit of fish. I wanted letters of fire across the sky. I got none of these. And I continued to hang about on the edge of the gap. . . .It was a question of whether I was to accept him—or reject. My God! There was a huge gap behind me as well! Perhaps the step to acceptance was a horrifying gamble—but what of the leap to rejection? There might be no certainty that Christ was God—but, by God, there was no certainty that he was not. This was not to be borne. I could not reject Jesus. There was only one thing to do once I had seen the large and growing gap behind me. I turned away from it, and flung myself over the gap toward Jesus. (A Severe Mercy, Vanauken, 1977, pp 98-99.) AJ

Craig Branch is the Director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.



Incarnation . Technical term referring to the “infleshment” of the Second Person of the Trinity; his becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.

L, M, Q . Abbreviations for hypothetical sources used by writers of the Synoptic gospels. “Q” (from the German term “Quelle” [source]), is used to designate the possible source for the literary material that is common to both Matthew and Luke, but which is not found in Mark. “L” designates the source for the material that is unique to Luke’s gospel, and “M” stands for material unique to Matthew’s gospel.

Quest for the historical Jesus. A series of research programs among modern biblical scholars to discover what Jesus actually said and did in history, as opposed to the “Jesus of Faith” believed in by the Christian Church. There have been three such quests. The First Quest for the historical Jesus began in 1775, with critical scholars seeking to construct a non-supernatural Jesus by going behind the “mythical” Jesus portrayed in the gospels. Albert Schweitzer brought the first quest to an end in 1906 when he showed that the Jesus constructed by each first quest scholar was simply a reflection of that scholar’s own religious and political ideology. The Second Quest began in 1953, using historical-critical methods and knowledge of the first-century Greco-Roman background in order to discern the real character of Jesus. The problem raised for this quest (which is still on-going) is that it ignores or downplays Jesus’ own Jewish background. The Third Quest was initiated in the 1980s by scholars who self-consciously seek to understand Jesus against his Jewish background. This third quest is far less skeptical than the earlier quests regarding the historical reliability of the biblical gospels, and is thus amenable to evangelical scholars.

Synoptic Gospels. The term “synoptic” literally means “to see together.” The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so called because of their great similarity in content and order as distinct from the Gospel of John.

Synoptic Problem . The problem in New Testament studies of explaining the significant similarities in the Synoptic Gospels. Traditionally, the Church has believed that Matthew wrote first, and then Mark and Luke abbreviated and supplemented Matthew respectively. Some, on the other hand, have argued that each gospel writer wrote independently of the others. The majority opinion today is that Mark wrote first and that Matthew and Luke borrowed Mark’s material, supplementing it with material from Q and their own unique material (M or L).