Jesus and the EyeWitnesses: A Study with a Skeptic Friend
Part 1—The Study Begins
This past year I had the chance to do a long study with a who has lost their faith, but was willing to study. They had let many doubts pile up over the years, and chief among those doubts was in the reliability of scripture.
Typically, when studying the accounts of the Gospels and whether they are historically reliable, Christians turn to books like The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. The book has sold well and convinced countless people of the reliability of scripture and of the story told by the Gospels. It becomes a problem, however, when studying with a skeptic who has a scholar’s approach to scripture. Strobel’s books captivate audiences who are less equipped for scholarship, for true heavy study in topics like archaeology, theology, sociology, and textual criticism. Historians with Masters degrees will approach his material with more questions that remain unanswered.
I am not downplaying Less Strobel, but admitting that his books are not as helpful when studying with scholarly-minded folks. He is a journalist, and it is a book written from a pop journalism perspective. He consults various experts, but he is also limited as a journalist (one of his sources was Jerry Vardaman, who no real scholar would pay mind to). Studying with this friend, I realized I had to find a more scholarly book, one suitable for studying with someone with intense scholarly skepticism, who yet still had an open mind.
Among the books recommended to me was Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckman, professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and a fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society.
Over the course of several evenings, we studied with our friend, moving through the book one chapter at a time, asking questions and discussing the readings. What I am setting forth in the upcoming posts is a summary, with commentary, of our time studying this investigative book with our dear friend, an honest skeptic.
I will go ahead and tell you that in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses Beckman elaborately supports his argument that all four Gospels are linked very closely to eyewitness testimony of people who had known Jesus the Christ in person. He explores oral tradition, literary criticism, and even cognitive psychology as he makes his appeal.
The book is really heady, and even people with Masters degrees may find it at times tedious, repetitive, and dull. But the dedication to scholarship is worth it. Bauckham spends most of his time on the historical figure Papias, but covers topics ranging from the Twelve Apostles, to Jewish names, to Polycrates and Irenaeus, to the psychology of memory. His chapters skip around in topics, but each is thorough and truly wrestles with difficult questions.
Join us in our next post as we begin our study by comparing The Historical Jesus and the Jesus of Testimony.