Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Objective Jesus And The Subjective Jesus

Marvin Read has an article today in The Pueblo Chieftan that reflects an irrational view of Jesus that's popular in many modern circles:

"The bottom line is that every person, Christian or otherwise, faithful or unbeliever, draws his own picture of Jesus, and each is as valid (although subjective) as the other. No matter what some preachers say, there is no objective Jesus that anyone is genuinely aware of. There may be one, but on this side of the veil, no one gets to peek. He is, for us, as we draw him."

Surely Read doesn't think that we can't objectively know anything about Jesus. We can't know that He was a male rather than a female? We can't know that He was a Jew? That He was crucified?

We might interpret Read's comments as hyperbole, but then we'd have to ask how much reliable information we have on Jesus. If Read acknowledges that we have some reliable information, how much? And even if some of the information we can attain is difficult to find, why not include the material that's difficult to attain as well?

If you acknowledge something as basic as the historicity of Jesus' crucifixion, you're acknowledging the plausibility of His fulfillment of highly unusual passages in the Old Testament (Psalm 22:16, Isaiah 53:4-6). If you acknowledge a basic fact like the timing of Jesus' death, you're acknowledging that His death occurred within a narrow window of time that would fulfill Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27). If you acknowledge a basic fact like Jesus' historical influence on Gentile nations, you're acknowledging His fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation of an ultimate servant of God who would become a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6-7, 52:15). Facts such as Jesus' death by crucifixion, the timing of His death around 30 A.D., and His influence on the Gentile world are widely accepted facts, acknowledged even by atheists, agnostics, and other people who are far from holding a Christian worldview.

What about other facts that are somewhat more difficult to discern, but are still highly likely to be true? Jesus' Davidic descent, for example, is highly probable, and the Messiah was predicted to be a descendant of David. Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, in line with Micah's prophecy (Micah 5:2), is also highly likely. Jesus' performance of apparent miracles is a high probability, given how widely it was reported and its corroboration by Josephus, the Talmud, and other early non-Christian sources (see here, here, here, and here). The resurrection appearances of Jesus are highly likely as well, given the evidence we have from Paul and other early sources, and there's widespread evidence that those appearances were inconsistent with what we know about hallucinations and other psychological disorders.

Many other examples could be cited, but the point is that we can arrive at a reliable conclusion that Jesus was supernatural, and that He displayed unprecedented power, just by following basic facts that are widely or almost universally acknowledged about Him. (I'm aware that the historical facts would be interpreted in light of philosophical issues in any discussion of these matters, but many of the relevant philosophical issues are similarly not too difficult to establish.) You'll find people who will deny that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, for example, but without good reason, and those same people will almost always acknowledge other significant facts about Jesus (His death by crucifixion, the timing of His death, etc.). Somebody like Marvin Read could point to people who deny that Jesus even existed, in order to argue that even the basic facts about Jesus' life are disputed, but we could likewise point to Holocaust deniers. Should we conclude that the Holocaust is a subjective matter that's "real difficult" (Marvin Read's language concerning Jesus) to discern? Yes, we have much more evidence for the Holocaust than we have for the historical Jesus, but the general principle I'm referring to is correct. The fact that you can find some people who will dispute this or that aspect of Jesus' life doesn't prove that there's reasonable doubt about the matter.

There are some aspects of Jesus' life that we know little or nothing about, such as His years between Luke 2 and Luke 3. But the issue here is sufficient knowledge, not extensive or exhaustive knowledge. There's enough known about Jesus' life to qualify as objective evidence leading to the reliable conclusion that He is who Christianity claims He is.

The problem for people like Marvin Read isn't so much historically identifying who Jesus is. The problem is more along the lines of accepting the implications of His identity. As Read goes on to tell us in his article:

"To be honest, that's my kind of Jesus [the Jesus in NBC's 'The Book Of Daniel'] - the sort of divinity who's easy to be around because he understands the way we are in both our good and not-so-good moments."

When Read tells us that "He is, for us, as we draw him", that's more wishful thinking than a credible historical and logical conclusion.