A freshman stood in front of the professor's desk to enroll in his first college class. This course would be part of a three-year cycle covering the life of Christ drawn from all four Gospel narratives. The student inquired what part of Christ's life he would be entering that semester. The professor answered that the next two semesters, a year's study, would be spent on the final week in Jesus' life. In amazement the student exclaimed: "But how can you spend a whole year of study on one week's time? It only takes a week to live through an entire week!" The professor looked at him with a mixture of disbelief and patience. All he replied was, "Just wait and see, you'll find out." That professor was my father, and I was the student entering his first year of college. This book is a reprint of part of the course work for that year. My father was right. I discovered more horizons, and grew in my understanding of Jesus more in that year than any other year before or after.
Since that day at my father's desk, fifty years have gone by. Furthermore, he had already been teaching this course for twenty years before. To this period of experience in teaching and preaching of Christ, must be added the years of preparation in the College of the Bible (Lexington, Kentucky), Yale, and Harvard. In all these formative years he did not compromise his belief in the deity of Christ or the infallibility of Scripture. He took advantage of the depth and breadth of library resources and a vast variety of subjects and theories. He did not find evidence to compel change in the starting points to his faith and commitment, but rather much confirmation of the truth of Scripture. This is what adds worth to his work and extension of time to its usefulness. In the year he died (1970), Baker Book House was preparing to join the four separate volumes of the Life of Christ into a one-volume collection. Five reprints have followed this. Now College Press of Joplin, Missouri, is issuing a new reprint.
Is it worthwhile to reprint this book? This demands at least a summary listing of good reasons.
At this point a reader may say to himself or herself, "How can you possibly find a book to fulfill all these requirements?" Indeed, you will have difficulty in finding another one like it. I would like to suggest altering my father's wording to the freshman fifty years ago from "wait and see...", to "read this book, and you will find out." Having read the book, I am confident the reader will agree this writing has earned its place as a true classic, living and rich in the treasures it shares.
Lewis A. Foster
The life of Jesus of Nazareth is so deeply imbedded in the literature, institutions, and the whole life of the civilized world that it is rather puzzling to stop and analyze the sources of our exact information concerning our Lord. Every way we turn we meet some reminder: the calendar which marks the passing of time, the buildings that face us on street corners and country roads, and the soul-stirring productions in the realm of art and music. But whence comes our actual knowledge of what Jesus said and did when on earth? Whence our conception of what Jesus is and shall be?
The modernist talks of Christian experience as the source of our knowledge of Jesus. And we do come to know Jesus in our hearts and lives. We treasure this intimate and precious fellowship. But, as a source of actual information, what of Christian experience? The whole case falls under the slightest examination. It is merely a subtle, underhand effort to discredit and discard the Bible..
The most important and almost the sole source of information concerning Jesus is the Gospels. Two of these are by eyewitnesses—the apostles Matthew and John; two are by early disciples. Mark may have been an eyewitness; but it is not probable that Luke was. Early Christian writers state that Mark wrote his Gospel as Peter dictated. If this be true, then the second Gospel rests solidly upon the testimony of the apostle Peter. Luke specifically states that he interviewed carefully the available witnesses and traced the entire course of Jesus' life with the most painstaking accuracy.
The procedure of Matthew and Luke is similar: they both tell of the birth of Jesus, but they differ widely in the details recorded. The first three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because of the similarity in their accounts. "Synoptic" comes from the Greek σψνοπσισ (seen together)—they can be arranged loosely in parallel columns and viewed together. John's Gospel is different from the others in point of approach and general treatment.
One of the greatest marvels of these biographers is that they tell so little out of such a great mass of available material. John himself pauses to comment on this feature and explain the purpose of the selective process (John 20:30, 31). Compare the size of the New Testament with the lives of Washington, Lincoln, Napoleon and other great men, and witness anew the divine inspiration that controlled and produced the unique conciseness of the Scriptures. The greatest scenes and events in the life of Christ are repeated in the various Gospels, for none could claim to present a life of Christ and omit these. But each Gospel is thronged with scenes and intimate touches which are not recorded in the others.
A second source of information concerning Jesus is the Old Testament. It does not so much offer new facts about Jesus as new light on the facts set forth in the Gospels. Every new angle of vision adds to the sum total of our conception of an object. The Statue of Liberty looks different and creates a new impression when we view it coming back into New York harbor. The death of Jesus creates a new impression in the soul of the Christian when he views it from the vantage-ground of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. Many of the scenes in the life of Christ could scarcely be understood without some of the prophecies of the Old Testament. It is not surprising that the Jews were so slow to believe when we remember they did not understand the real significance of much of the Old Testament. The very personality of Jesus takes on a new grandeur and glory when we walk in company with the inspired historians, poets, philosophers, and prophets of ancient Israel. In the Book of Matthew alone there are more than forty quotations from the Old Testament cited to help the reader understand the unparalleled record he presents. Some striking examples are: the nature of Jesus' birth—of a virgin; the place of Jesus' birth—in Bethlehem; the home of Jesus in His youth—in Galilee; various details of the death of Jesus—soldiers casting lots over His garments; refraining from breaking His legs when they hastened the death of the robbers; piercing His side with a spear; and various other details.
Another document which throws light upon the life of Christ is the Book of Acts. It is somewhat surprising that it so seldom refers to the life of Christ; but the author holds strictly to his subject: the acts of the apostles—the history of the founding and development of the early church. Even in the great sermons he summarily records, he passes over presentations of the life of Jesus. For the Gospels have already adequately set forth the life and personality of the Christ. In his summary of Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost he condenses into three verses what must have been the main body of his discourse: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves know: him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God raised up" (Acts 2:22-24). Peter's second sermon is summarized in the same sweeping fashion, Acts 3:13-18 indicating that the great emphasis was on the death and resurrection as related to the guilt of his hearers and to Old Testament prophecy. In Stephen's sermon the reference to Jesus' life is limited to one-half of verse 52, but this probably means that the sermon he meant to preach was interrupted by his hearers as they rushed upon him in murderous rage. Philip "preached unto him Jesus," but what the details of his presentation to the eunuch were, we do not know. Luke holds himself strictly to his task of giving a history of the early church, since he has already written his biography of Jesus. Peter's sermon at the home of Cornelius presents Jesus' life in Acts 10:38-43: "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all possessed with the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up." Peter must have presented the life of Christ in great detail to this Gentile audience, and Paul evidently did the same in his sermons at Antioch and Athens, but the report of this part of the message is exceedingly brief.
Does the Book of Acts present any new information about Jesus, any details not found in the Gospels? In two chapters, actual additions are made to our knowledge of the life of Christ. In the first chapter we learn of these events: 1. That as Jesus ascended "a cloud received him out of their sight"—a graphic touch which is not found in the Gospels. 2. That two angels appeared to the apostles gazing steadfastly into heaven, and predicted His return. 3. The fact that the appearances of Jesus covered a period of forty days. 4. Details of the final conversation of Jesus, which enable us to identify absolutely the baptism in the Holy Spirit (1:5) and give us the Great Commission in somewhat different form.
In the twentieth chapter, Luke records the touching farewell of Paul to the elders of Ephesus, which closes with one of the most precious sayings of Jesus: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." No other book of the Bible records this wonderful word of our Master.
A further source of information concerning Jesus is found in the Epistles of the New Testament. This source ranks second in importance to the Gospels, because of the tremendous discussions of His personality. There is the same restraint here as in Acts concerning a restatement of the life of Jesus. Paul was not an eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus as the other apostles had been. But this does not mean he was lacking in information. He explicitly affirms his knowledge and its divine source (Gal. 1:11, 13). The quotation in Acts 20:35 indicates the range of his information was not limited to that which was finally recorded in the Gospels. But Paul does not attempt to retell the life of Christ, because he is writing to those who are already familiar with these details, having heard it from him by word of mouth (1 Cor. 15:1). Moreover, he is writing to meet specific problems which have arisen in the churches. These two reasons parallel those seen in the reticence of Acts.
The Epistles of Paul do make frequent, though brief, references to the life of Christ. But these references are introduced to establish or illustrate his argument, just as the first chapter of Acts introduces such features of the ascension scene as will properly introduce the day of Pentecost—Luke's first great theme.
Some of the incidental references to the life of Christ in the Epistles of Paul are as follows:
This last is most important since it is the only record of the appearance to James and to the five hundred.
In addition to these incidental references to the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Epistles of Paul offer some tremendous discussions of the personality of our Lord (Col. 1:15-22, Phil. 2:6-11, etc.), which explain His relationship to God, to the work of creation, to the present universe, to man, and to the church. These discussions have the utmost value in the study of the life of Christ.
The Epistle to the Hebrews contains a number of references to the life of Jesus: Heb. 13:12, "Wherefore, Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate," makes absolutely clear that Golgotha was located outside the city wall. John 19:17 and Mark 15:20, 21 intimate this, but Hebrews plainly asserts it. The present location of the "Church of the Holy Sepulchre," which rests upon Catholic tradition and is within the city walls, is evidently not the proper site, since it is a plain contradiction of Heb. 13:12. The Epistle to the Hebrews also offers a most touching picture of the sufferings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and affirms strongly the sinlessness of Jesus (Heb. 4:14, 15; 5:7).
The First Epistle of Peter is famous for its reference to the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, in which the puzzling reference is made to His "preaching to the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:18-20). This obscure passage had an important influence on early Christian literature and art. Since the time of Martin Luther many scholars interpret the passage as referring not to any preaching by Jesus, but by Noah. Moffatt, by a slight emendation of the text (adding the Greek letter ch), would make it refer to preaching of Enoch. But there is no textual evidence to justify such a change. Moffatt's arbitrary emendation of the text leaves it disconnected. The passage discusses in turn the death and resurrection of Jesus. Placed between the discussion of His death and His resurrection, the reference is to the time Christ spent in Paradise and in appearing to the disciples. There is no reference to Noah until verse 20, and it seems unjustifiable to make the statement in verse 19 refer to him. We know that Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration concerning His approaching death (exodus) in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). This shows that the saints in Paradise were tremendously interested in the divine drama unfolding. It would have been natural for the saints to have been interested intensely in hearing Jesus tell of the redemption which had been achieved by His death. If the lost in Tartarus heard across the impassable gulf, even as when the rich man talked to Abraham, then they would have heard what Jesus declared in Paradise (Luke 16:23-31). The disobedient in the days of Noah appear to have been mentioned by Peter because he wanted to introduce the ark as a figure of baptism in his discussion. The Greek word used for "preached" here is not ευανγελιδζο (to proclaim good tidings) but κερυσσο (to proclaim). Jesus had no good tidings to proclaim to the lost. The message He gave to them was the same kind of message that Abraham gave to the rich man (Luke 16:24-31).
The Second Epistle of Peter contains our only testimony by an eyewitness to the great scene of the transfiguration: "We were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:16b-18).
The Book of Revelation, in its towering and mysterious discussions of the Messianic character of Jesus and His second coming, adds no new facts, but leaves an abiding impression of the �