Monday, March 21, 2011

What the stories say

One of the charges leveled toward the New Testament is the books can't be trusted to give an accurate representation of Jesus, being that they were written years after his life.  Often those antagonistic toward Christianity will say that additions occurred in time shaping the person of Jesus the world presently knows.  The big question is, "Do we have the correct story of Jesus?"

Before examining this question, it needs to be understood that the story of Christianity rests entirely upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  If Jesus never rose from the dead, then Christianity is a hoax (1 Cor. 15:13-19).  Is there any evidence that the story of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection was early and was not a later invention?

Before the gospels and the epistles existed, certain creeds and songs were in circulation that spoke of the person of Jesus.  These creeds and songs were early oral stories that had originated from Jewish converts to Christianity.  In other words, these stories predate the New Testament documents.  It is important to note that Christianity started in Jerusalem and was exclusively made up of Jews.  Why is this important?  There are many reasons why the story of Jesus we have today can be trusted, but probably no reason is better than the rich history and content of the Jewish community.

The Jews prided themselves upon memorization and the passing of oral tradition.  In fact, this was a fabric of their culture.  For those who were esteemed, like prophets and popular rabbis, the sayings of these individuals were preserved through the oral stories and subsequent writings.  Jesus certainly qualified as one who's words would have been memorized and recorded.

To understand the importance of memorization, one can look at the orthodox Jewish culture today.  One of my great friends (Brian Eckstein)  is a descendant of an orthodox Jew.  His grandfather, Stephen Eckstein came to the United States from Russia at the turn of the 20th century. [1]  In talking to my friend, he tells the importance of his grandfather's heritage in memorization.  In fact, Brian has told me that his grandfather had memorized the entire Psalms as a boy, as did the other boys that were taught by the local rabbi.  The point is,  the early creeds and songs of the New Testament can be trusted to give us first hand information concerning Jesus.  Additionally,  it is defiantly not far fetched to believe that the gospel accounts of Jesus accurately report the historical eyewitness sayings and events of his life.

Early creeds and songs are numerous within the New Testament.  Some of these include:Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; 1 Cor. 15:3-8; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-18; 1 Tim. 3:16, 2 Tim. 2:8; John 1:1-18; 1 Peter 3:18-22; 1 John 4:2.  A common thread that ties each of these early sayings together is the death, resurrection, and Deity of Jesus.  Each of these passages can easily be translated back into Arabic, showing they are early stories of Jesus.  In other words, each creed or song predates all of the New Testament writings  which were written in Greek.

Perhaps one of the most agreed upon passages as being early is 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.  Even critical scholars agree that this creed predates the New Testament and could go back to the resurrection of Jesus. [2]  In this short creedal statement, Paul tells us the early story of the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Jesus to specific individuals.  Why is this passage so important?  This passage was a very early story that validates the central message of Christianity.  If Jewish people were spreading false information in Jerusalem and within the Jewish world there should have been a tremendous outcry against the lie of this story, but no outcry to counter this early story was ever given.  This early story of the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Jesus surely would have been squashed, early on, if the message was a fabricated story.

The central theme of the early creeds and songs is that the Christian message was not a later invention.  The entire New Testament, by eyewitnesses of Jesus is buffered by the early creeds and songs.  What the early stories say is, Christianity is not an invention by Paul or any of the New Testament writers.  The early stories attest to actual events of the person of Jesus.  The early stories attest to the fact that Christianity is not a contrived religion.  By just taking the early stories of Jesus, we have all we need to piece together the reason for the birth, spread, and accuracy of the Christian message.

[1]  Eckstein, Stephen, From Sinai to Calvary - This is a great autobiography telling the story of Stephen's adventure in coming to America and the process of coming to know the Messiah.  If interested in purchasing this book, mail Stephen Eckstein Jr. at: Stephen D. Eckstein Jr. - 6808 6th Street, Lubbock, Texas, USA  79416 or e-mail: or by phone: 1-800-771-7061 (Feel free to mention you received this information from Shelby)
[2]  One critical scholar, Jack Kent, who wrote, The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth, said of the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, this "could be dated very close to the actual resurrection (p. 16-17)."

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