A new book by Chuck Missler, Ph.D., and William Welty, Ph.D., sets out to prove that Jesus was a historical person, the Son of God made man who died for our sins and rose again.
Why another book about Jesus?
As the Apostle John concluded his biography about the life of the most remarkable person who ever walked the face of the earth, he wrote: “Of course, Jesus also did many other things, and I suppose that if every one of them were written down the world couldn’t contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, ISV).
Almost from the birth of the Christian church, however, heresies plagued it.
Paul wrote about these heresies when he wrote to the Galatians: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of the Messiah and, instead, are following a different gospel, not that another one really exists. To be sure, there are certain people who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel about the Messiah” (Galatians 1:6-7, ISV).
Peter addressed the issue when he wrote a letter to an unnamed Christian church: “Now there were false prophets among the people, just as there also will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1, ISV).
The heresies took many forms. Adoptionism, for example, was an early Christian heresy that taught Jesus was born as a non-divine man, was supremely virtuous and was adopted later as “Son of God” by the descent of the Spirit on him.
Docetism was another heresy that held Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion. It maintained that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die.
In the seventh century, Monothelitism taught Jesus had two natures but only one will, contrary to orthodox Christology, which teaches that Jesus Christ has two wills, human and divine, corresponding to his two natures.
Gnosticism was a very popular heresy and had several variations, one of which stated that good and evil are equally powerful and that material things are evil. Other Gnostics believed that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was an agent of the true God and brought knowledge of truth to man via the fall of man. Others believed that the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve was a hero. The God who forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge is the enemy.
All of these heresies were condemned by the early church, but their teaching carries on to the present time.
The most recent and well known heresy surrounds a process rather than an idea. The Jesus Seminar gained influence in late 20th century New Testament scholarship primarily in the United States. Organized in 1985, the Jesus Seminar consisted of a group of 30 people whose mission was to “renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to the general public.” The group, called “fellows,” eventually grew to 300 people.
In the first phase of its work, the fellows looked at the sayings attributed to Jesus in various sources and voted on their validity. Most of the sayings were deemed to be from a source other than Christ.
The Jesus Seminar also looked at Jesus’ deeds and deemed that the only deeds that could have been attributed to Christ were non-divine in nature. His baptism by John, His association with social outcasts, and His trial and crucifixion were the only types of deeds the Seminar would attribute to Jesus.
In sum, the Jesus Seminar characterized Jesus, if he existed at all, as a wise rabbi who taught in parables, befriended peasants and reached out to the disenfranchised.
In response to this and other unorthodox teachings, Missler and Welty wrote “I, Jesus: An Autobiography.” The new book documents a real, historical Jesus who speaks in His own words about Himself, His purpose, his Nature and His mission.
In late January, the authors were discussing the cultural mythology surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, and it occurred to them that the issue of the person of Jesus should be addressed. The discussions led to the book.
The book is laid out as a textbook, but it reads like an adventure story, examining the claims Jesus made about Himself and the claims that were made about Him in the Hebrew Scriptures and by His followers.
The book first addresses the question, “Did Jesus really live?”
Several classical references to Jesus survive from Greek and Latin sources. The accounts are almost universally hostile to Christianity, attempting to explain away the miraculous nature of Jesus and the events that surrounded his life.
However, the sources conclude:
- A group that called itself “Christians” derived its name from the Latin term Christus, a transliteration of the Greek term Christos, which means “Christ” and was used as a title for Jesus of Nazareth.
- Their leader lived in Judea and was executed there during the reign of Tiberius under Governor Pontius Pilate.
- The new movement was centered on what one non-Christian writer referred to as “a most mischievous superstition,” a reference to belief that Jesus rose from the dead shortly after his execution by crucifixion during a full moon festival, which the New Testament calls the Passover, Festival of the Jews.
- The new movement began in Judea and spread rapidly to Rome.
Early Christians considered Jesus to be a divine being, though virtually none of the Roman sources articulated clearly what they or the Christians meant by the term. They only concluded the claim was considered to be a national security threat to the Roman government.
Thallus (ca. A.D. 52), arguably the earliest non-biblical writer to mention the events of the New Testament surrounding the person of Jesus, is so ancient that his writings are no longer extant. But Julius Africanus, writing in his Chronography 18:1 (ca. A.D. 221), quotes Thallus as having attempted to explain away the darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion: “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”
Pliny the Younger (ca. A.D. 61-113) is known to have written of early Christians: “They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
Other contemporary historians note the belief not only in Christ’s existence but also His miraculous works.
In his blatant hostility to all things Christian, Celsus (ca. A.D. 175) inadvertently reinforces the New Testament record in more than 80 separate and distinct quotations from the Bible, thus affirming their presence early in church history. His writings contain the astonishing admission that the miracles claimed in the New Testament to have been performed by Jesus were believed as fact by Christians well before Celsus wrote his works in the second half of the second century.
He writes: “Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery. … Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home, highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”
Celsus does not debunk the miraculous works but rather tries to explain them away as Jesus learning magical works known by the Egyptians.
Missler and Welty go on to document 32 statements Jesus made to His followers that could only be true if He were indeed divine.
Matthew 10:32-33 records the following rather startling statement: “Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people I, too, will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before people I, too, will deny before my Father in heaven” (ISV).
The book also explains the claims about Jesus made by John the Baptist, the Apostles John, Peter, Paul and Jude, the younger brother of Jesus. It also documents the claims that Jesus wrote about Himself in His letters to seven churches that are documented in the book of Revelation.
Toward the end of the book, the authors address the claims about Jesus made in the Old Testament, many of which are contained within the internal design of the Scriptures themselves.
Each of the claims of and about Jesus is laid out in separate sections for easy reference. The layout makes it easy to find the answers to questions such as, “You can’t prove that Christ ever existed,” or “Christ never said he was God.”
So if you are a serious student of the Bible or have just a passing acquaintance with the Scriptures, this book is both a ready reference and guide to a grand adventure to learn about the most amazing man who ever lived.