Trying To Explain Away Jesus

Crucifixion Christianity has a lot of enemies. Any system which tells people that there is a better way to live than the way they are living is going to meet resistance. In order to do away with the Christian system, you have to discredit Jesus Christ. If Jesus can be shown to be a fraud, someone who never lived, or a myth concocted by ignorant people of ancient time, then the Christian system based on His teachings and life is seriously damaged. In Jesus' day, the traditional religious leaders made all kinds of accusations against Christ in a desperate attempt to discredit Him. Through the centuries, that attempt has been continued in all kinds of ways. Here at the start of the twenty-first century, the challenges to Christ have been accelerated as society becomes increasingly selfish and materialistically oriented. It is not just the overt atheist who seeks to destroy Jesus Christ, because even theologians like those who made up what was called "The Jesus Seminar" have sought to reduce Christ to a local charismatic leader--not the divine Son of God.

What we would like to attempt to do in this discussion is to look at some of the attempts to explain away Jesus and respond to those challenges. We would hope that those struggling with some of these things might be helped, but we also would hope that those who have never heard of them would be informed so that, when you do run into them, you will be aware of where they are coming from and what a possible response might be. We will try to organize the objections into sections to help keep the material in an organized fashion.

Apostolic Fraud

One of the claims that attempts to deny the validity of Christ is that His followers after His death perpetuated a myth. The idea is that when Jesus was killed, Peter and the others realized that their claim to fame was gone and that they had wasted three years of their lives. Rather than accept this, according to this view, they invented the story that Jesus rose from the dead and constructed a huge church empire around this fabrication.

The Tomb There are many versions of this claim. They propose such things as bribing the Roman guards and the women to tell their stories and then stealing the body (see Matthew 28:11-15) and persuading people to concoct wild stories about Jesus appearing to them. For people living in the twenty-first century who have seen huge religious scams make people rich and famous, this sounds familiar and thus reasonable. Television programs and books have constructed elaborate theories as to how this could have been done.

You can argue endlessly about whether or not such theories are reasonable in view of how the Roman system operated. More to the point is why the apostles would do this. The result of being identified with Jesus and His resurrection brought pain, rejection, persecution, and even death to those who were associated with Christ. History tells us awful stories about what happened to the apostles, both from the Romans and from the Jewish population. People of the cultures of this time did not consider women to be credible witnesses so making such claims would only serve to discredit them further. Even if the apostles had started out promoting their Christian beliefs, the pressure on them from all sides would have made the story unravel in a short time.

Swoon and Family Theories

Man collapsed under the cross Various versions of these theories are that Jesus was crucified, but did not die, and then was resurrected. Some versions say that Jesus took a potion that caused Him to appear to be dead and that He revived and convinced everyone He had risen from the dead. The first point that needs to be made here is that the Romans were professional killers. An escaped prisoner would cause those responsible to be killed. The fact that Jesus gave out blood and water (John 19:34-35) shows He was actually dead. No human could survive torture, crucifixion, spearing, three days and nights in a cold tomb and then fight His way past armed Roman guards. There is no medical logic to this claim.

Family theories involve the idea that family members stole the body and then provided a look-alike for Jesus, perhaps even a twin brother. We have already discussed the problem of stealing the body and maintaining a hoax--no less of a problem for family than for the apostles. How would you produce the nail prints or the spear hole in his side? Where would this man go? Luke 2:1-20 does not give any support to the idea that Jesus had a twin. There is no logical reason for anyone in Jesus' physical family to do this.

Legend and Myth Theories

Perhaps the most common modern explanation of Jesus Christ is to declare him a myth or a legend equivalent to stories about Zeus, Hercules, or Thor. Many modern skeptics will do a reverse god of the gaps leap in this area. Any claim they regard as not natural is declared to be a myth or a legend. This not only denies all biblical miracles, but also anything that does not conform to our present understanding of what is possible. People working in quantum mechanics will say things like "nature is not only stranger than you can believe; it is also stranger than you can imagine."

Jesus teaching the masses There are many indicators that Jesus Christ is not a myth or legend. First of all, there is not enough time between the gospels and epistles and the events they report to allow legends and myths to take hold. If Jesus died before A.D. 30-33 and the synoptic gospels are written between A.D. 50-70, you have much too short a time to construct an elaborate story which people of the time would know was not true. Scholars usually talk in terms of two or more generations to sufficiently distort facts to the extent that a legend or myth develops.

Another point is that the apostles seem to realize that people would accuse them of promoting a myth because over and over they state that they are eye witnesses of what happened (see Luke 1:1-4; John 19:35, 21:22-25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:11-12; 2 Peter 1:16; and 1 John 1: 1-2). They also identified actual names of people, schools, houses, events, and public figures, many of which have been verified historically and archeologically. Comparing the accounts of Jesus with Greek myths as some skeptics attempt to do involves a gross misrepresentation of the evidence. Claiming that a miracle was performed does not make a myth work. You can reject the miracle, but you cannot ignore the evidence that the account has no earmarks of historical distortion. When someone writes a book about some miraculous event that they feel happened in his/her life, I do not write them off as a legend. I may not believe the event was miraculous, but if there is historical documentation from reliable sources that certain things did happen, I have to be willing to consider the possibility that something miraculous did take place. In the day in which we live, I have found that historical documentation to be incredibly rare, but the events in Jesus' life are very different.

The greatest problem skeptics have in explaining away Jesus Christ occurs when they try to oppose His wisdom, teachings, and influence. Legends and myths are usually popular because of great physical achievement. Comic strip heroes, movie heroes, athletic legends, and even gods and goddesses of ancient cultures have achieved their popularity because of great feats of strength, bravery, and victory.

Jesus is the antithesis of this kind of thing. While He showed incredible bravery and courage, His claim to fame was His teaching and His unique view of the value of all human beings. It is Jesus' command to love one another, turn the other cheek, serve one another, treat one another as equal, become like children, etc., that has attracted the love and adoration of people of all times, cultures, races, sexes, and ages. In spite of the fact that some have borrowed Jesus' name and then done horrible things, the teachings of Christ remain unique.

The question comes down to each of us today: What will you do with Jesus Christ? Try to explain Him away or love and obey Him and become a part of His kingdom.

--John N. Clayton

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