Tag: life of christ

18Jun

Review: Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ

Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ
Harold W. Hoehner

Dr. Hoehner approaches his subject by addressing seven specific issues in understanding the chronology and dating in the life of Christ. He begins with the date of the birth of Christ, coming to the conclusion that 4BC is the only date possible. Through this section, he deals with the record of Herod’s death, including the eclipse most often used in the dating process, and various problems (such as Luke’s statement that Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry).

The author’s second chapter deals with the year in which Christ began his ministry, and the third chapter with the duration of the ministry of Christ. The length of ministry is primarily limited by the Feasts listed in the Gospel of John; two Passovers are mentioned explicitly, and one Passover is implied. After some consideration of the other available options, Dr. Hoehner concludes that three years is the best option available.

The day on which Christ was crucified is the next subject at hand; Dr. Hoehner concludes that Friday is the correct day, though he does propose that Thursday appears to be possible. He spends some time considering the problem of Jesus eating the Passover with the Apostles, and then the Pharisees not wanting to enter Herod’s house because they had not yet eaten the Passover themselves. To resolve this problem, he argues that the Passover was eaten on two successive days because of two different traditions among Jews from different areas of the country.

Chapter five considers the year in which Christ was crucified. The primary evidence here is the timing of the Passover in each year, along with any external evidence. He concludes that the year must have been 33, making Jesus around 37 years old when he was crucified. Finally, Dr. Hoehner considers the prophecy of Daniel 9, and the beginning and termination points of the 70 weeks.

Overall, this is a good resource for those who want to go beyond the basics and dive into the thinking and research required to build a solid chronology of the life of Christ. Well worth reading for those who are at all interested in studying the three and a half years of Christ’s ministry.

4Jun

Review: The Life of Christ (Farrar)

The Life of Christ
Frederick W. Farrar

Logos/Logos Life of Christ Collection/Amazon

Farrar’s Life of Christ is one of the classic texts on the subject, published in 1886, and used by seminaries and students ever since that time. To understand Farrar’s text, the reader needs to begin with it’s social context. In the late 1800’s, there were many different movements that dramatically impacted the Church’s view of the Scriptures, as well as the Church’s view of the relationship between religion and science. Particularly notable were the higher critical schools of thought about the Scriptures, the strong wave of the application of scientific principles to the practice of medicine, and the emergence of naturalism (using evolution as a vehicle) on the world stage.

Given these contexts, it is no surprise that Ferrar’s view of the Scriptures is only moderately high. For example, Ferrar says:

And the Gospels, always truthful and bearing on every page that simplicity which is the stamp of honest narrative, indicate this fact without comment. There is in them nothing of the exuberance of marvel, and mystery, and miracle, which appears alike in the Jewish imaginations about their coming Messiah, and in the apocryphal narratives about the Infant Christ. -Page 13

But in another place:

I have here attempted to combine, as far as it is possible, in one continuous narrative, the perfectly comprehensible, but slightly differing accounts of the Synoptists (Matt. 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20; Luke 5:1–11). Let me remark—(1) that any one whose faith is shaken by the so-called “discrepancies” of these and similar stories must (a) either hold some very rigid, untenable, and superstitious view of inspiration, or (b) be wholly unacquainted with the different aspects assumed by perfectly truthful but confessedly fragmentary testimonies; and (2) that the very variety in the narratives, being in no respect inconsistent with essential and truthful unity, is a valuable proof of the independence of the Gospel witnesses.” -Footnote on Page 193

So Ferrar holds what is probably a higher view of the Scriptures than many modern scholars, but not so high a view as to admit they are without error. The second point the modern reader will probably be put off about is Farrar’s clear chronological snobbery.

A very early popular legend, which has crept by interpolation into the text of St. John, attributed the healing qualities of the water to the descent of an angel who troubled the pool at irregular intervals, leaving the first persons who could scramble into it to profit by the immersion. This solution of the phenomenon was in fact so entirely in accordance with the Semitic habit of mind, that, in the universal ignorance of all scientific phenomena, and the utter indifference to close investigation which characterise most Orientals, the populace would not be likely to trouble themselves about the possibility of any other explanation. But whatever may have been the general belief about the cause, the fact that the water was found at certain intervals to be impregnated with gases which gave it a strengthening property, was sufficient to attract a concourse of many sufferers.” -Pages 372-3

Here, and in many other places, Ferrar discusses the state of the “oriental mind,” as if people who lived in the “prescientific age” really just didn’t know that demon posession is really a form of mental illness, or that it was more than just a habit of the “oriental mind,” that a man’s demons could really run into a herd of swine. This entire line of thinking goes hand in hand with his moderate view of the inspiration of the Scriptures.

The positive outcome of Farrar’s thinking along these lines, however, should not be passed over —his insistence on the humanity of Christ. Given as he to cutting miracles down to size, Ferrar brings the human side of Jesus into focus very clearly. The mdoern Church can use a large dose of Jesus’ humanity, and his ability, just within his perfect humanity, to effect many of the scenes we read as miraculous. For instance, the passing of Jesus out of a crowd that wanted to throw him over the brow of a hill need not be a miracle.

Farrar also does a good deal of work in providing the background behind each event in the life of Christ, explaining the position of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and providing the Rabbinical background to a number of incidents. This background information helps to clear up some misconceptions, and to add depth to the narrative in a way few other writings in this genre do. The appendixes (Excurses) are tremendiously helpful, particularly on the oral verses written law, the Sanhedrin, and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

He does seem to miss the point in a few places; for instance, he misses the reason behind the sudden use of parables at the end of Matthew 12. Rather than seeing parables as an intentional method designed to hide truth from those who aren’t willing to hear, he sees them as a way to more widely express truth. The author does an excellent job of interconnecting the Feasts to the proclomations of Christ, and in showing the bad motives of the leadership in the nature and manner of their questions.

Overall, for those seeking a solid representation of the Life of Christ, and can handle the watermelong seeds with the watermelon, this is a good, if long, book, to read.

31May

The Deity of Christ: The Birth Announcements

There is a persistent modern myth that the deity of Christ was something added to the record of the Gospels long after Jesus actually lived and died —and that Jesus himself never claimed to be God. This series will destroy this myth in it’s entirety by showing how the story of Jesus doesn’t make sense without his claims to deity, that these claims could not have been added later, but had to have been part of the original record for the record to make any sense at all.

In fact, these claims to deity began even before Christ was born, with the announcement of the birth to Mary and Joseph. A key verse is Luke 1:32-33:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:32-33

There are two crucial points in this angelic announcement showing this forthcoming Son will be not just human, but deity. The first is the phrase, “the Son of the Most High.” In modern cultures, to say someone is the “son” of someone else is to simply say something about their physical lineage. But in the Hebrew culture, even (to some degree) to this day, to say someone is “the son of” is to say something about their standing in relation to someone else, rather than their parentage. To see this in operation within the context of the culture into which Jesus was born, let’s look at another verse where this sort of phrasing is used.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. -John 8:44

“Your father the devil…” The men Jesus was speaking to weren’t actually fathered by Satan in a physical sense, but they were like Satan in standing and personality. They are the incarnation of Satan, having his personality, his spirit, his desires, his character.

So when the angle says to Mary that this child will be the “Son of the Most High,” he’s not making a statement about the parentage of Jesus, he’s making a statement about the standing and character of Jesus —that Jesus will be God in the flesh, the incarnation of God.

Within the context of the Gospels, nothing much makes sense without this original expectation that Jesus is the Messiah, God incarnate. This isn’t some myth inserted at a later time, the life of Christ, the death of the children at Herod’s hand, only make sense in the context of this birth announcement.

There is another indication of the deity of Christ within this birth announcement, as well —that Jesus would reign on the throne of David forever. There is only one who will take on the throne of David eternally, and that is the “greater son” of David, the Messiah. 2 Samuel 7 outlines God’s covenant with David, stating there will be a Son of David who will rule on on his throne forever —this point in the Angel’s announcement is a clear reference to that prophecy.

So from the very beginning of the story of Jesus, there are clear references to his deity. As we move through the life of Christ, we will find these claims to be interwoven in his life in a way that prevents his life from being understood without them.

17Mar

Review: What Have They Done With Jesus?

nullWhat Have They Done With Jesus?
Ben Witherington

There will always be a great deal of interest in the life of Jesus at the scholarly and not-so-scholarly levels —at least until Jesus, himself, returns, and we can ask him questions about his childhood, his intentions, and his theology to satisfy our curiosity. Given the current raft of “historical Jesus” writings, I picked this book up with some trepidation —I was pleasantly surprised in some areas, and disappointed in others.

Mr. Witherington divides his book into seven parts, each roughly two chapters long. The idea is to discuss a particular topic from the Scriptures and external history (such as it is), and then to consider the bearing of the information just presented on the question of who Jesus is, and what we can know about him. The author begins with the women in the life of Jesus, moves to Peter, then to Mary, the Disciple who Jesus loved, the brothers of Jesus, and finally looks at Paul. The final section is a wrapup and overview of the information covered in the previous six sections.

What was the role women played in the life and ministry of Jesus? This is the first question the author asks, and attempts to answer. I suspect the author starts here because it is the most provocative material, in terms of traditional belief, in the entire book —and we all know that you really must disagree with the conservatives in some significant way if you want to get any sort of a hearing in the modern world. People don’t much care whether what a conservative says is true or not any longer; truth is no match for tickled ears.

And this section, unsuprisingly, is where the author tends to slip the worst. He makes some very strong points about the social conditions, and how important it is that women were counted among the disciples of Jesus. That God designed it so the resurrection was first discovered by women, and that women accompanied Jesus on his journeys is amazing enough. We don’t need to stretch beyond this into the belief that women were Apostles in order to make the point that Jesus was counter cultural in his treatment of women.

On the other hand, Mr. Witherington does show us that there was no “affair” between any of the women and Jesus. Jesus was not married to any of these women; when he appeared to Mary Magdalene, she didn’t say, “my beloved,” or “my husband.” She said, “My rabbi.” That’s just not what a woman would call her husband or lover.

The second section, on Peter, is no less interesting while not being quite as provocative. The author’s attachment of fishing for fish to fishing for men is interesting, and well done. In Part three, the author deals with the issue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He is sensitive to the issues, and defends his position that some of what we see in the Gospel story is a play on authority, with Mary attempting to assert her authority over a son she considers perhaps going wrong, until she finally comes to faith at the foot of the cross.

In The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, Mr. Witherington argues the main source the material for the Gospel of John was actually Lazarus. While it’s not necessarily convincing, it is an interesting argument, and with some well supported contentions. This is one area where you’ll really need to do the research and think through the issues for yourself —the thesis could be broken up into multiple pieces, and make for some deep and difficult thinking.

The section on Paul contains some threads from the New Perspective on Paul, but shows a good balance between the writings of Paul and the writings of James. This is a cogent and plausible explanation of the social and doctrinal pressures that produced what appears to be, to some people, contradictory sets of instructions on living the Christian life.

In the final analysis, Mr. Witherington brings some strong arguments to the table to convince us that we should trust the Gospels. He doesn’t argue for the literal inspiration of the text, and he does make some basic errors in some places —Jesus did not teach pacifism, for instance. But overall it’s well worth reading and considering this book about the people who surrounded Jesus.

Just remember your watermelon etiquette when reading What Have They Done With Jesus —the sweet parts are for eating, the seeds are for spitting out (and if you’re the right sort, chewing on), and the green stuff, well, forget about it.

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