It’s nearly that time of the year again isn’t it? You know, the time when all sorts of people come out of the woodwork and explain how Jesus DID NOT die/do miracles/exist etc, and how he in fact DID marry/have kids/ stay in the tomb/have gay sex, etc, etc.
It’s a veritable merry-go-round of a list (I will be taking bets next year as to which one is the flavour of the 2016 season). The Grinchmas narrative (cos that’s what I’m calling it) goes a little something like this:
- Public radio or television station pulls out expert that no one has heard of.
- No-name expert (aka, someone with no academic credibility within serious biblical scholarship, but a grant at some university nonetheless) comes across all Grinchy about Christmas and how Jesus did or didn’t do whatever.
- Popular publications and newspapers pick up story and post it under shocking headlines and photos of Jesus with wife/under a rainbow flag, etc, etc.
- People read it over cornflakes or on train and go, “See, I knew it!”
- Christians groan/face-palm/gird their loins for the inevitable rebuttals they will have to undertake with work colleagues/kids in class etc, etc.
So that’s the format. What about this year? Wait for it! And the Grinchmas winner 2015 is….drumroll please….Jesus DIDN’T exist. Boom tish!
Yes folks, that’s the anti-Jesus rabbit pulled out of someone’s, er, hat, this year, and it has gained a little traction. You can read a fantastic rebuttal of that perspective from an actual historian and respected scholar, Dr John Dickson, here.
Now maybe you go “piffle” to the idea that Jesus did not exist, but many people are not so sure. My mate was getting some new bible quote tattoos on his arm and his tattooist starting talking religion, as you would when you are inking a long quote from Isaiah on someone’s forearm, replete with fancy scroll stuff.
In the course of that conversation the tattooist said the argument doing the rounds that Jesus didn’t actually exist was pretty convincing to him – and he had a PhD in 4th Century Jewish Talmud documents (not really). So the idea’s out there. My mate wisely asked questions, not wishing to end up with NO REGERTS or some such folly that would cost thousands to laser off.
As an aside we knew a woman who had a tattoo of The Little Prince on the small of her back. Apparently it originally looked like this:
Unfortunately three children and a decade later, every time she bent over to pick something up it looked more like this:
…but I digress.
Let’s face it, the idea that Jesus did not exist is flaccid, intellectually lazy, and a convenient whipping boy for people who don’t want Jesus to have existed, primarily because of what it might mean if he did.
It’s a little like the well-worn argument about whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon really wrote all those amazing plays. Did he or didn’t he, or as my daughter just put it, to be or not to be? One wag has witheringly said that if William Shakespeare didn’t write them, then someone of the same name at the same time of history and in the same town did.
By which point the argument has vanished up its own posterior. Which is pretty much the same with the Jesus argument.
Did Jesus really confound the religious leaders of his day when they tried to trap him with a hot political question about paying the poll tax to Caesar, in which any answer would be the wrong one? No, but someone with the same name did. Remember how that went?
“18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’21 ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”
I love that! I always stand up and whoop and yell “In your face!”when I read it, such is its outlandish, otherworldly wisdom. But if Jesus didn’t exist, then someone else must have said it. And they were pretty awesome.
And then there’s that whole crazy idea that Jesus came to not only fulfil all of God’s promises to Israel, but to be the new Israel through which they would be fulfilled.
And how about that crossing of the waters of the Jordan in his baptism, and then going up into the desert to face the same temptations as Israel experienced in Deuteronomy? If Jesus didn’t do that, then someone like him did, because we couldn’t come up with it!
And just imagine that standing on the mountainside calling his new people (12 of them!) to him, and giving them the law of the Promised Land.
And then there’s that lonesome battle in the Garden when he decides, unlike Adam, to do God’s will, not his own.
And of course, there’s the cross. Which, as Luther said, MUST have been from the mind of God because no human would ever devise such a plan.
Like, wow, just wow! Whoever could come up with that stuff is worth following! And who could come up with it? No one, unless they were an amazingly God-like man so well-versed in, and empowered by, Jewish Scripture that people hung on his every word? That people kept asking if he were the promised Messiah?
Hey maybe Jesus didn’t do all that stuff but someone just like him, with the same name sure did.
And last of all, I guess it was just a lucky fluke that two of his followers met a bloke just like him on a road after he had died. After their hopes were dashed that this Jesus-esque bloke would be the one to redeem Israel from her travails. After they had decided to move on and find another hope in something or someone else.
And this bloke (whether it was Jesus or someone with the same name) completely confounded the way they, their contemporaries, and their predecessors, understood their own Scriptures. So much so that they, and their mates, turned the world upside down because of it.
Ok, if Jesus didn’t exist, it wasn’t him doing all that stuff, right? But whoever it was (let’s call him Russell, Sebastian, or Nehemiah of Antioch), he sure strides across history like a colossus.
I’m gonna bet it was Jesus, and in saying that I have no regerts.
Great message Steve. I enjoyed the angle you take with this one, and thanks for linking to Dr John Dickson’s interesting article. If we’re not talking about Jesus at CHRISTmas then what are we doing!
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