The subject of the historical Jesus is of primary interest today, both in scholarly and popular circles. More attention has been given to various aspects of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection than has been the case in many years. This interest has even extended across the theological spectrum. The number of published books has been staggering, and not at all easy to review and survey.
Of all these subjects, the resurrection of Jesus is like a many-faceted diamond. Turned one way, it is the very center of the Christian Gospel. From another angle, it is the best-attested miracle-claim in Scripture (or in any other “holy book,” for that matter). Turned again, it provides an evidential basis for Christian theism. Further, in the New Testament it is a bridge to almost every major doctrine in the Christian faith, as well as being related to multiple areas of Christian practice, as well.
For over twenty years, this incredible event has been the focus of my professional studies. Earlier volumes have dealt with the failure of naturalistic theories to provide an alternative account of the resurrection data, an initial work on sources for the life of the historical Jesus, an apologetic from the resurrection to Christian theism as a whole, a public debate on this subject, and two books on the enigmatic Shroud of Turin. A forthcoming text maintains that this event is the center of both Christian theology and practice. This present volume is another puzzle piece in the overall topic, but a piece that can stand alone in producing a crucially significant element in the total case for the resurrection. During these years of study, I have never failed to be amazed at the majestic aspects of this occurrence.
This book is chiefly an effort to examine the life, death and resurrection of Jesus from a different perspective. It is largely concerned with pre- and nonbiblical evidence for these events. The main body is devoted to a study of sources that date from before, during, and just after the New Testament, including creedal traditions recorded for the first time in the pages of Scripture. These fascinating subjects seem to be too frequently left unexplored.
The volume is divided into three sections. Part One critiques a number of recent attempts, both scholarly and popular, to undermine in various ways the historicity of Jesus.
Part Two presents the central thesis: the historical evidence for Jesus’ life. Here the material is usually dated from approximately AD 30–130, or within 100 years after the death of Jesus. Several sources do extend beyond this time frame. An effort has been made to include virtually all of the sources during these years, but it may not be an exhaustive treatment, depending on the date given to a few other documents.
Part Three consists of the appendixes that will hopefully provide some additionally helpful material. While the information included there is diverse, it is certainly relevant to our topic.
An important question is often raised as to why we should be so concerned with pre- or even extrabiblical material when we have plenty of information about Jesus in the New Testament. There are both positive points to be raised and warnings to be given with regard to such a methodology.
Positively, there are a couple of related reasons for exploring sources for Jesus’ life that are found outside of the New Testament. Initially, such an effort has much apologetic value because of the possibility that this data might corroborate our present knowledge on this subject. In other words, we may find additional evidence for the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that strengthens our case derived from the Scripture. Additionally, this entire topic is one on which comparatively little published research has been done. Therefore, since at least some important evidence is to be gleaned from these sources, it ought not be largely ignored by Christian scholarship, as so often happens.
On the other hand, there are some implicit dangers that we cannot ignore. Therefore, a warning must be issued along with the plea that readers not take this concern lightly. Namely, by pursuing this line of pre- and extrabiblical evidence, we run the risk of implying that Scripture is not a sufficient source of knowledge about Jesus or that we must have additional information about his life. As a consequence, one might ignore Scripture as the primary witness to Jesus or doctrine might be questioned unless extrabiblical evidence could be adduced. By such explicit or implicit beliefs, much of New Testament theology would be ignored or compromised.
This writer does not wish to be a part of such efforts that teach or even imply that Scripture is not a sufficient basis for Christian belief. This book is devoted to developing a new area of apologetics and not to questioning the basis of Scripture. In fact, this writer believes that the best approach to apologetics (in general) is one that begins with the evidence for the trustworthiness of Scripture and then proceeds on this basis.