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It may be noted for completeness that some still like to revert to the ways of old-fashioned radicalism; though now for so long it has been assailed by overwhelming floods of facts, archaeological facts, linguistic facts, patristic facts, canonical facts, logical facts. True, this fervent ferment of dedicated unbelief has become rather a passé phenomenon, and less available than used to be the case as a (dis)belief capsule for those who may feel the need of it. Still, a few words may here be provided in recognition of the fact that even in this day, some may stray this way.
We shall pause then to look briefly at the view that Jesus did not exist - Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the crucified Saviour, the King of the Jews. Perhaps in desperation some would even revert to this, so let us review a few of the more obvious fallacies in such a position:
(1) Even for the most dedicated unbeliever, it is a little disquieting to note the Syriac letter of MARA, a philosopher operating around 74 A.D., who compares Christ to Socrates and Pythagoras, naming Him 'the wise king of the Jews'... who, he said, were justly punished for murdering him. (It is sometimes forgotten how many Jews were crucified around Jerusalem when its time came, not many years after this Jewish capital city had given the very same treatment to - the King of the Jews.)
(2) Around 50 A.D. is the date given
for an ossuary discovered in 1945 outside
(3) The Jewish historian, Josephus writes in some little detail (around 75 A.D.) of Jesus as a wise man, a doer of marvellous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He won over many Jews, the historian adds. Laconically, he goes on: "He was the Messiah." After crucifixion by Pilate, he notes, he appeared on the third day alive again, as prophetically predicted.
Lest it be thought Josephus was a Christian, let this be put to rest. He cited the events perhaps after the manner of tongue in cheek modern day 'descriptive writers' in comparative religion. Thus he goes on: "And even now the race of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out." We will of course note the unity, the common basis in Christ the supernatural Messiah - even to the point these Christians were called - a 'race.'
It should be observed in terms of evidence that this testimony is found in all the manuscripts of Josephus, and that it agrees with the style of Josephus; and that he made favourable mention of John the Baptist elsewhere, as well as the martyrdom of James 'the Brother of Jesus called the Christ' in another place.
(4) Another problem for the unbeliever in Jesus the Messiah's place in history, at least for any not too existentialist to be interested in facts, comes from Tacitus, the historian. Not long after 100 A.D., he advises us that: "The name Christian comes to them from Christ, who was executed in the reign of Tiberius by the Procurator Pontius Pilate; and the pernicious superstition, suppressed for a while, broke out afresh and spread not only through Judea, the source of the malady, but even throughout Rome itself, where everything vile comes and is fêted." (Italics added.)
True he sounds rather like an orthodox Marxist in his irrational, emotional vilification of Jesus; and perhaps he, like these new imperialists of men's souls, felt the danger posed by a king not limited to this world. The point however is that the 80 years or so following the death of Christ left a very unheroic and distasteful image of Christ as a dis-savoured residue in the world of officialdom and bureaucratic power. This same Christ, however, was held by some in a strand of popular favour at that time as duly possessed of the required supernatural seal. Further, this supernatural type religion had shown force and thrust enough to squeeze from the official the title 'pernicious'.
Could Tacitus then have been so unoccupied that he invented his bête noire; or so unfactual as to refer in anti-professional fun, to this 'infection' as of vast extent and irrepressible virulence ?
If then we are to be rational, we will notice that prior to this 80 year mark, Christianity based on a crucified Messiah to whom was attributed the seal of the supernatural, had:
i) shown numerical strength.
ii) been observed, considered and reacted against (could we call this 'reactionary'!).
iii) reached the point in which the reaction is official and suppressive.
iv) a fixed character in these noted features over a characterisable period of change and cruelty, shown it by officialdom.
v) secured relief from suppression, and
vi) gathered force and surged anew.
All this takes time. Bureaucracy is never fleet-footed. It would seem clear that Christianity in an integral and sustained character (not factions but a movement identifiable and traceable in decisive unitary terms, focussing the Christ of God), had been active for decades before this 80 year mark, following the crucifixion of the King of the Jews. It had become strong; and for that, it had to grow, previously. It had to have the cohesion for such unitary impact; it had to surge on to evince dangerous impact. Even for that, on uniformitarian grounds, several decades is required. Then it had to be repressed when this in turn was bureaucratically at length decided on; relieved, and this too in due course and when adjudged apt; and then revived in its surge of impact. For this, it would seem, a few more decades. Shall we suggest 6 or 7 decades for this concerted outreach phase depicted by Tacitus ?
Thus we see the growth and historical development of something that must reach back to around the middle of the first century; and possibly significantly earlier. Just so. So it was; the Gospels would indicate the time was around A.D. 30. Tacitus is so helpful... Why then do the heathen rage (Acts 4, Psalm 2) ?... it does not help them. It simply serves God (Psalm 76:10 indeed states the principle on which this works.)
Thus this supernatural religion focussing Christ, centring on Christ is so far shown by the evidences of history to be just what you would expect if the New Testament account of the matter be accepted. It is what you would expect, indeed, if the Jews be not thought blind (*1) en masse to their own Old Testament Scriptures, lest they should compare the contemporary claimants for Messiahship with the required performance and profession criteria, specified for the Messiah, by their own prophets... It was these, their own Jewish prophets, who predicted the arrival of the Messiah, in the first place! Where vested unbelief did not conveniently operate, you would expect a significant body of Jews to have both high co-ordination and high impact on others. Even though a negative and estranged vested interest is of many types, personal and social, religious and spiritual, political and ecclesiastical: you would expect just the fearless unquenchable character of the faith, that we find. With the supernatural and unsubduable Christ, it fits and finds its warrant. NO Christ does not produce this Christian consequence.
(5) But let us now travel back a little - say around this 50 A.D. mark - to Samaritan born historian Thallus, in Book Three of his History. Here he explains away - according to Julius Africanus - the crucifixion darkness as an eclipse of the sun; and this, says Julius, unreasonably. Michael Green in his 'Runaway World' accords Julius full marks for his criticism; for says Green, you cannot have a total eclipse of the sun when the moon is full as it was at Passover time, when Jesus died.
Thus Thallus in 50 A.D. is seeking with all due vigour to dash the significance, the awesome significance of the atmospheric effects noted in the New Testament, for the crucifixion.
The point then here is the evidence of the impact on unbelievers such as Thallus, of the darkness surrounding in the crucifixion. It is not the psychological fact that they squirmed in 50 A.D., but the simple fact that this aspect of the supernatural Messiah's history so affected them at that time that they were motivated to undermine it. Further, it indicates an awareness then of so refined a datum of the New Testament account, so intimate a morsel of the crucifixion scene - as the atmospheric darkness observed as He died.
The fact of a crucified Christ is known in A.D. 50; and it is known within the context of claims concerning it, at a rather minute level; and its thrust is felt to the extent of a reaction of so much effort and so little truth as Thallus'. The matter at that time, moreover, is readily within living memory, being less than two decades previously - the Cross itself, and all that it meant; all that was built into the event; and all that was not!! In this setting, Thallus finds it so necessary to argue, in just the way he did.
(6) Suetonius merely confirms this
heavily convergent evidence. This court official under Hadrian sees fit to
record that Claudius (around 49 A.D. would seem to be the date for his
reference) expelled the Jews from
A uniformitarian, it will
be observed, might expect it to take a little time for the Gospel of the King
of the Jews - the prophesied Saviour - to reach
Overall, in fact, its progress came to be quite amazing in view of its challenging and sacrificial character, moving far deeper than mere conformity or authoritarianism to the very life of the soul, before the invisible eye of Almighty God.
(7) Pliny, sent by Trajan to govern the
They could not then, when the time came, wisely accept any other; in the end, there could be no two opinions on this objective status for the One religiously to be accepted; and there would be therefore no room for development on this necessarily foundational point. In this case, the summit must also be the foundation. Our point is simply this - that the evidence singularly attests it. (See prophetic detail in Old Testament - pp. 755-773, 913 ff. esp. 939- 943; and Chapter 9 supra passim for example.)
Thus Pliny observes that pagan temples had had to close down for lack of customers; sacred festivals and sacrificial animal demand were sadly smitten. A religion focussing Christ to the supplanting of all that could be worshipped, was before long striding in spiritual jack-boots across the yielding soil of the Empire. To do this, to reach this point by Pliny's time, it would need time for - yes, you've guessed, organisation, translocation, dissemination, impact, establishment, overthrow of competition - to the far outreaches of empire.
They did not have our forms of communication and travel. What shall we say ? Many decades ? Moreover, the advance had to be made in the face of undoubtedly and assuredly tough opposition, and physical and social obstruction. A while longer seems indicated. When did it start ? When did this supernatural, Scriptural thing, this Christ-thing start ?
The New Testament would imply around 30 A.D.; and that seems a modest span for such results as these, given the difficulties, the fiery persecution - such as Nero's - and the limits of that period of history. (See pp. 899, 902, 932-937, 946 supra, 1150 infra.) Always, always, we are forced back to the record by this monolithically decisive and fixed faith... this faith in Christ, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Pliny most interestingly goes on to note his own execution procedure for the obstinate Christians, though with some misgiving it would seem. They would meet, with their impeccable morals, he indicated, and sing a hymn "toChrist as God."
We must observe that this Christ as God had to be pursued amidst the opposition of Jewish and pagan priestcraft, the sneering of official and philosopher, and the barbarism of persecution as heavy-handed and insensitive as that of the Communist barbarians of our century. Thus the historical evidence for a mutative break-up of the Christians into God and non-God groups, relative to the Messiah in this period, is about as clear and well-attested as is the growing of prize-winning dahlias in the desert. To call it irrational, is flattery - if we are to regard the evidence. The miracle is that the religion proceeded half so far, so fast, so well as it did, be it never so unified, clear and true. But the miracle is part of its nature, as self- defined; so that this is merely evidence consonant with its character...
(8) Christians however do have some friends, besides God. Thus some 20-30 years after the crucifixion, we have the Apostle Paul happily telling the outline of the faith (so often alluded to - as we have seen - by its enemies), for us.
Paul announces this central fact; he expounds, he resounds with his agreement with the other apostles; he deals with much error, but has NO trouble in the Church with this clearly established and incontrovertible datum...
'Christ as God...'
For Paul to be using this so freely within 20 years or so of Christ's death; and to be using it as a cohesive part of the uncontroversial basis of Christianity forces a reasonable observer to postulate such a conviction abroad and established in the Christian community, long before Paul's fiery impact and ardent leadership in the Christian Church. Differences within the Church, he does not hesitate to mention. He will even feature them, indeed, when principle is involved. But on the facts of Jesus Christ, the Church here displays no tremor.
Paul's claim, then, to such inspiration is clearly generally accepted in a church which hears such doctrine with such assurance and assured community around 50-60 A.D.... and the doctrine always focuses CHRIST AS GOD. We must therefore go back - say 10 or 20 years anyway, to this deeply rooted tradition itself, as to content, as to Christ... which brings us to the era of the New Testament's indication: around A.D. 30. Further, in practice we notice Paul's derivation of authority is from the foundation of Christ TO Paul; not vice versa. He proceeds from the known to the less known; from the assured to the corollary; from the beginning to the end. This is a potent a fortiori consideration. (Cf. Philippians 2:5-11, Ephesians 4:5, 1:4-5, Romans 5:10-11, 8:32,34,39).
If, then, anything ever went back to the beginning, this does. If ever facts spoke, these of Christ do so. If ever evidence was almost offensively convergent and decisive, this focussing and featuring Christ as God is. But that is what you might expect.
(9) Let us revert. Christ in turn, Christ Himself as so multitudinously attested - we dare say it - had to secure this status in the face of detailed tests, both rational ( we of all men are not the only rational ones, in our day ) and revelatory ( the religion of the Jews incontrovertibly was based on their revelatory records which they adorned with minute and almost endless Talmudic interpretations).
Not least of these tests,
these verificatory considerations required of the Messiah was of course
precisely the deity of His personality (pp. 755-773 supra). It is surprising how
little this point seems to have been dwelt on. After all, Jehovah's personality
was a datum of the Old Testament, a commanding and arresting datum, a startling
and consuming datum. The true Messiah predicted so extensively in the Old
Testament, for whom the nation breathed its expectation whilst under
It is precisely such a Christ which the New Testament reveals, and which one would expect if rationality is to have any bearing at all. And in this work, we are dealing with reason... for faith. Not unreason for non-faith.
The Old Testament reeks with the evidence that the Messiah was to be the one whom God could refer to as 'I,' as an equal; this was the Messiah's divine status, and in this way did Paul in turn in fact refer to Him. "They shall look on Me whom they have pierced," says God in Zechariah... You may not yet have realised that the one who speaks as God in that Jewish book, speaks thus of the pierced Christ whom - for them - He predicts. It is of Him as 'Me' that the Lord speaks. For them, this appears as regulatory; it is required reading; it is required specification. Its performance by the Messiah, is correspondingly required in the test-tube of history. These credentials the Messiah had to present. (Cf. Isaiah 53; 40; 42; 49; 7; 9; 11; 32; 2; Zechariah 3:8-9, Psalm 45, 48:16, Micah 5:1-3 and pp. 755-774, 822-829, 893 ff. supra and index, Messiah. The prophecy segment has in detail expounded these points from their Biblical base.)
Not merely does the New Testament reveal such a personality as to content, however, but as C.S. Lewis - speaking as Cambridge University special literary Professor - has so strikingly affirmed: "Either this (the New Testament is his topic) is reportage... or else some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative." That point, here, of course, is merely a corollary as to the form and format of the New Testament; and we are permitting ourselves the luxury of an unneeded a fortiori. In other words, having thrown overboard the corpse of error, we are here sending down a submarine to inter it in the depths of the sea.
Let us recapitulate. The Christ had therefore to make this claim of divinity, to live up to it, to identify with the requirements of the Old Testament test materials, if He were so much as to register as a serious contestant for the famous and widely awaited place in history: The Messiah! If it be thought that the Jews of the first century were so much more foolish than so many in our generation (than which overall what could be more foolish ?), that they confused these clear Old Testament specifications with an anachronistic twentieth century do-gooder image, or Father-Christmas type, a Messiah as empathetic boy-scout - then this rationalisation may be of interest; but not to the logician, in this matter. If they en masse preferred unheard of follies for their Christ and ignored the factual grounds found in the source of the expectation, cruelly, invidiously testing grounds; even as to type - then Alice through the Looking Glass is sober fact.
Could one indeed merely claiming before these first century Jews, to be a god of the twentieth century type - like Hitler, Mao or Stalin - get away with it with any solid force at all ? Assuredly not; for the Jews' book defined God with a clarity not readily attributed to our century in such matters: omnipotent, omniscient, accurate, determined, irresistible, infinitely understanding, compassionate, and coming to earth as a man to deliver sinners through a sacrifice that matched justice with mercy. (Jews do not read Isaiah 531 even yet in their synagogues, it is said, seemingly because it is still too clear.)
Christ had to measure up to what that God claimed to be, in order to pass muster as the Messiah. Death awaited imposters. But nowhere do we find any success for Jesus Christ's opponents in any due record, except that which was predicted for them, in these same Scriptures. And this ? - the success of physical violence. Yet even that was failure, for that violence was the predicted sacrificial procedure planned in open court to the world (as seen in the Old Testament), by the wisdom of Jehovah - a most serviceable prelude to the resurrection. Like puppets, hostile potentates executed God's plans when they executed His Son, the Messiah (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:8-9).
Well now, to the point. Could a 'God' of that sort be shown up with childish simplicity - if he were an imposter ? Presumably by children, and certainly by adults. When the claims are so large, it is simple to attack the folly by argument; through the evincing of ignorance; through the appearance of frustration; in all the array of weakness and smallness which distinguishes the creature from the Creator. Perhaps in 5 minutes it could be done. It would be sport for boys. But the acutest Jewish minds, with the maximum motivation, failed to do it in three years; did not discredit such a claimant; they failed abysmally to embarrass Christ with truth; only killing Him, the final resort (cf. John 11:47 ff.); just as God planned (Acts 2:23, Isaiah 53 and Prophecy Ch. 9 Section 1, supra).
The issue was not sentiment but reality; not photogenic power but omnipotence; not solidarity but singularity; not preferability but entire pre-eminence; not comparative excellence but divine splendour; not knowledgeability but everlasting truth; not kindness but perfection. This is what Jesus Christ had to show to a hotly unsympathetic audience, a vyingly vicious set of contestants with tenure, and tenacity in their religious establishment, which He rocked, shocked and condemned.
His prophesied power lay in His divine status and sovereign capacity; and will it now be asserted by the 'faithful' unbeliever that He was untested by the most elementary devices of reason and revelation by those whose greatest immediate need and everlasting destiny were, and were frequently held to be, dependent on the consequences of error in this field... The Jews had to face facts.
In the madness of this twentieth century (a spiritual malady), it is perhaps the way of some to imagine all men were fools before this our time - when it suits them! The tired cynicism of an anti-historical twentieth century mind must not, however, import itself anachronistically into the arena of intelligent expectation and Scriptural authority prevailing in the human test-tube of that time.
Would the Jews, without any thought, secure a fire-cracker thinking it to be an atomic bomb, when their whole personal and national fate depended on knowing what they were about; when their theocracy pivoted on the point ? When the Old Testament described this Christ in terms of the greatest severity and clarity, in miraculous terms, did they - for so long so expectant that the marvel of someone becoming His mother... had occurred to their wondering, prepared minds, would such as these en bloc suddenly ignore the very items which lent glory to this predicted Christ; and forget the locus of the prediction itself, the Scriptural source! The delicious oddity of our friend, Alice through the Looking Glass is an exercise in commonsense compared with this!
But the testimony both in the New Testament and in the evidences adduced is precisely that from the first it was as God, that Christ was received; reason, revelation and evidence echo together. That was the test status.
There is only one question: "What do you think of Christ ?" If you reject Him, it cannot because of ignorance. It is an act of the will.
(10) We have been watching the Gospel of the Jewish Messiah, the God-is-Christ teaching in its continuity and unity abounding well within living memory of His crucifixion; indeed, very closely after the event. And what does the record say, what is the tenor of all the historical references to this religious race, the Christian Church ?
Look, it says, see the facts (*2), note the evidences, see these public actions of Christ, ponder these events. That is what the records say; and that is the type of attitude active in the New Testament, in martyrs and in the early Church writers. (We shall shortly revert to the early canon and the array of early Christian writings in it, in particular.)
This is the sort of testimony that throbbed through the people of the day. Facts, facts and more facts - what we have seen and heard; what you have seen; what you have done; what Christ did - how He died, how He rose, what He now does. (Cf. John 3:11; Acts 4:9,20.)
Had the thing been other than truth, that would have been procedural suicide. Yet in fact, the Christian faith was the greatest success story of universal religious invasion, of all time. What of its opponents, while the religion raced through the empire, disturbed the populace and closed the temples ? They did not recall, perhaps, that Christ did not exist, had never lived - and so kill this bane ? They did not notice, perhaps, that there had been no such crucifixion, and decapitate the whole matter ? They did not realise, perhaps, that these public 'miracles' of which so much was made, were non-existent, and that people had merely to be reminded they did not occur, that no such record, memory or history existed...
On the contrary, the opponents of Christianity allowed under their noses, their hostile noses, the evil flower to grow: when a snip of the scissors of fact, to which the religion in every record has basically appealed, would cut it off?
Truly, that is wonderful logic. If possible, the concept of these disciples, as so abundantly attested in Paul, pulling a 'swifty' on the resurrection while they pirouetted to assured ruin: this is another miracle, one for the credulity of unbelievers; one leaving the resurrection itself as mere child's play by comparison! (See in detail Chapter 6 infra.)
In such a case, an imbecilic Master having proved the insolvency of His hopes, the inadequacy of His promises, the incompetence of His convictions, His disciples carry the flag of His failure to the earliest possible graves they can aspire to achieve; or a powerless liar having shown the shallowness of His thinking, His corpse rigorously rotting, His companions in crime cavort in agony to their appointed place, so that the same puny principles might afflict a doomed nation (cf. *1, and pp. 931-943 supra). Relying on a power which (in that case) wouldn't be there, they seek to execute what (in that case) couldn't be done! Over such comedy, the bored may laugh; but the rational cannot connive.
Nor does the supreme efficacy help such a dream, the supreme efficacy of this Christ-as-God religion as it swept the world.
Most appositely, we must now note that the canon of the New Testament is another of those things so disappointing to the religiously minded sceptic ( i.e. those who in defiance of all reason, as shown formally in the early part of this book, and of all the evidence, will cling to anti-faith, from which cometh not their 'aid').
After all by A.D. 90 or so, we have Clement of Rome showing knowledge of a good body of authoritative New Testament writings, as a datum in his exhortation, referring in passing to Paul as speaking "with true inspiration". By about 117 A.D., you have Ignatius referring freely to Paul's epistles to the Corinthians (I), Philippians, Ephesians, and evidencing a good knowledge of the contents of our Gospels, especially Matthew and John. Knowledge is linked with admission of authority.
"I do not," declares Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Romans (4), "as Peter and Paul, issue commandments to you. They were apostles, I am a condemned man." With knowledge and the admission of authority, he gives also the FORMULA, 'it is written', which he employs often in his Dialogue, in referring to New Testament scriptures; just as the Lord Himself used this formula in reference to the Old Testament. Organisation with authority, knowledge with procedures are all in place as the New Testament, like fast setting glue, is added to the deposit of the Old which preceded it.
Polycarp, around A.D. 117, evinces familiarity with the contents of Acts, Romans, 1 and 11 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 and 11 Peter and 1 John, the evidence runs. We notice of this good and godly martyr, his warm heart, shown in the Epistle Concerning the Martyrdom of Polycarp; as also his clear and incisive mind, in his Epistle to the Philippians. There he firstly elevates the New Testament scripture, in his quotation, to the level of the Old Testament, deems it 'sacred' with the Old, and execrates entirely a departure from the Lord, the Gospel and the declared word of God. The force of his condemnation and the ease of his attribution of authority to the manifest way, indeed to the word which declares the New Covenant, is eloquent. Let us hear it:
For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection or a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and the false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning ... VII
An endeavour to break Christianity is dismissed with sure and confident recourse to the established canons, to scripture, to Paul to the past, to the understanding assuredly gained, with all the rigorous application and expectation of a Dutch housewife who suddenly sees a mouse. This is what we are seeing a few decades after Paul in Polycarp.
The term 'oracles' is used by Papias ( c.130 A.D.) in his Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord, when he says concerning Matthew:
So then Matthew recorded the oracles in the Hebrew tongue...
echoed by Justin Martyr in his Apology ( 1:66) when he declares:
the apostles in the memoirs which were composed by them which are called gospels, thus delivered unto us what was commanded them.
This term used by Polycarp, as we see above, for these apostolic New Covenant writings, exhibits an original deposition still regulative and authoritative, then, just as it was at the first.
The 'sacred scriptures' - as Polycarp designates the ultimate written authority, using the language of lordship, antiquity and authority, are already a unified basis for counsel (12). The apostolic writings are per se, indisputable, clear, uncontroverted, commanded and as we shall see from Justin, used, in the church. They are used indeed in parallel with the writings the prophets, whose claims to divine direction was cardinal, functionally inalienable, immiscible and subject neither to review, revision, rejection or 'treatment' of any kind. To that authority, this was collated; with that stature, this was concordant; with that unclouded eminence, this was equally celestial matter. Thus is the evidence of the approach taken.
Whether, then, it be the message, or the word ('I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness' - 9), or the gospel, or the Lord Jesus Christ, there is something contradistinct and supernaturally derived, a settled and sure, an available and determinate, a directive and secure authority which brooks no challenge, and occasions no argument in the clear depiction of what is.
The status quo is not being determined: it is determinate. It is not derivative: from it rather decisions derive. It is not communal: it has the authority of Jesus Christ. It is not ongoing, it is a point of reference; it is not suggestive, it is sovereign and it is so not because man makes it so, but because the Lord is so, whose name is final.
Such is the attestation made by Polycarp and around his time, within living memory of - indeed very close to - the apostle John. Soon, as Foxe narrates, he would seal refusal to reverence or sacrifice to the Emperor, with his life. Something of this immense divine impact is paralleled from martyr Ignatius when he refers to the gospel as the 'perfection of incorruption' ( Philadelphians 9:2 ).
Of course, the authoritative acceptance is seen still earlier when Peter, in effect, canonises Paul's epistles and constrains their use (II Peter ), while Paul quietly acknowledges the scriptural plateau occupied by the words of Luke (1 Timothy ). Daniel did the same relative to Jeremiah (Daniel 10): and indeed, the authority, whether of prophet in the Old Testament or of apostle in the New is nothing new; but rather is it a natural expression of the same declared authority, from the days of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-22 ), so valiantly exhibited and expressed by Jeremiah in his afflictions, by Isaiah to an unheeding people, the authority being wholly independent of, and divinely impactive upon the people (cf. Isaiah 30:8 ff., 59:21, 34:16, Jeremiah 44:29, Joel 2:11).
Indeed II Peter 3:2 has the words of the apostles, with Peter's, linked with those of the prophets perfectly explicitly. Our point then is this: The book of authoritative writings nestles in its place, like the command centre in a space module connected to earth (but here the module is on earth and the centre is in heaven): in just the way you would expect on the basis of the actual data as detailed. The configuration of historical data conforms to doctrine, like skin to a body: intimately and continually.
What then ?
By 100 A.D. or so, we have established an inspired authority as to TYPE - in regard to these writings, with deep overtones apparent in succeeding years, as indeed they had been from teaching on scripture found in the scripture itself! This argues much earlier fluency of these writings and acceptance of their message. Indeed, we saw Paul in the very height of it 40 or 50 years earlier! By around 150 A.D., we find Justin Martyr trebly attesting the monolithic majesty of the testimony communicated through the Christians. It is seen in his writings relative to ceremony, authority and inspiration.
With these writings, moreover, there goes the pith and substance of the entire faith concerning the Messiah, His mission, works, crucifixion, resurrection, power and prophetic role. The faith is written all throughout the incontestable corpus of writings assigned to no party, platform or position, but to the realm of sacred scriptures, joined fearlessly to the Old Testament as the word of God.
If it is evidence we are seeking, it is abundantly presented; and if it is not, it may be simpler to dream, though not relevant to the rigour of enquiry.
Ceremony, authority and inspiration related, we noted, to the testimony as evidenced by Justin Martyr. Thus in his Trypho dialogue, he notes the Sunday ceremony in which the writings of the Old Testament prophets and those of the New Testament apostles were taken and used as parallels in the service. As already seen, he observes that the apostles in their 'memoirs' delivered what was 'commanded' them (cf. Isaiah 55:6). This of course is wholly correlative with the recognised authority of the prophets in their declamations in the name of the Lord in the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 44:6, 50:1). Of the book of Revelation, Justin notes the revelation according to John the apostle and proceeds to quote Luke 20:34 with the linkage: "Just as our Lord also said..."
It is, then, the Lord who said this to John. This is the testimony.
In evidential accord with this perception of the honour of the word of God appearing in Scripture, you have the sense of horror at misuse of it which Polycarp showed, as we saw earlier, in his thunderous condemnation of 'whoever perverts the oracles of the Lord...'; and this, in a SETTING of the word handed down from the first, and the 'sacred scripture'.
This in turn is similar to that displayed by Paul in II Corinthians 4:2, where he proclaims that they are not, as some, falsifying or trafficking in the word of God. This word, then, is oracular, sacred, commanded and to be obeyed, correlative to Old Testament scripture: its mutilation is sacrilege, not division, and its 'mouth' is that of the Lord (cf. I Corinthians , 2:9-13): who statedly both reveals the substance and secures its expression. (Cf. Appendix D; pp. 12-14, 232, 251-267, 562-565, 984 supra, 1163C, 1166, 1136-1137 infra.)
So it is accounted, so accepted, and as such addressed. By about 140 A. D., you have even the heretic Valentinians (*3) visibly venerating much of the Canon! (Horrors for the superficial criticisms of Harnack, who used to have a gradualist view.) F.F. Bruce puts it (New Testament Documents, p. 19):
It is evident from the recently discovered writings of the Gnostic school of Valentinus that before the middle of the second century most of the New Testament books were as well known and as fully venerated in that heretical circle as ... in the Catholic Church.
(The term 'Catholic Church' here of course refers to that genuninely non-citified, not-nationalised, non-sequestrated body of the whole world, in which "all you are brethren" and ONE is your Teacher, even Christ - as Christ warned and witnessed. THAT is a body which is distinctively other than what is now sometimes called the "catholic" church, but more accurately, from a scientific point of view, 'the church of Rome', although even that has the difficulty that in terms of doctrine it is not 'the church' at all; though this is mitigated by the fact that it is the well-known body calling itself by such a name, and it is in Rome in a way which thousands and millions are not indeed likely to forget, nor are the records of this world and the next. See Chapter 10 supra.)
He refers us to a work on the Jung Codex at this point ( F.L.Cross ). Thus God makes man's wrath serve Him, as scripture asserts, and this confirms.
Such was the burden of authority, that scripture was appealed to on behalf of new ideas! In fact, heretic Marcion even drew up his own canon, mutilating scriptures, in order to do the job. In their concern with the manhandling of scripture to fit their philosophies, heretical groups (*4) exposed in their warfare some of the mutual terrain: here the early church assurance of an established, authoritative body of writings, containing all the Christian basics and emphases, unchallengeable in its assured setting, accorded scriptural authenticity that knew no bounds. Thus archeology once more corroborates.
Long past the dynamic unity of the church in its establishment (cf. Galatians 1:18-2:9, II Peter 3:16, Acts 4:1-33, Acts 15 with the negative style of confirmation in Acts 5:1- 8!), so consistently and imperturbably evidenced in the apostles, and so broadly and univocally voiced in the accepted Gentile ambassador Paul, it was hard for belated mavericks to 'twist' this way or that.
To attack the wholly accepted harness was merely the more to feature and reinforce its undoubted status and unique presence: the disharmonious intrusions exhibited the stature of the truth they assaulted. Not 'your writing' or 'his' was the criterion; but the corpus of composite and compounded scripture, this was the height for assault! This was to be the butt of reactionary attack as the second century gave the devil a chance to re-group, facing the horrendous fact: A century from Christ failed to provide any evidenced alternative whatsoever, to the scriptures of these univocal Christians with their unique book of utterly concerted apostolic testimony!
Marcion, later, famed for wanting to jettison much of both Testaments, once again, merely showed how distinct the actual scriptures were which, Old and New, so offended him. Here was a philosopher showing what scriptures must go, if the church were to follow him: not a segment of the faith was the operative proving ground; but the detested word in its abhorred corpus! In that resolution, no name but that of Judas is attested from the midst... of the fold of the established warriors of the faith; and that is attested by a corpse, not a corpus.
Reviewing recent discoveries, Professor F.F. Bruce aptly remarks of unorthodox thinkers in the second century:
They show that orthodox churchmen were not the only ones who accepted practically the whole catholic canon of New Testament writings as early as the middle of that century. ( Op.cit., p. 99.)
Indeed, if Valentinus indicated a distinctive reverence for scripture, his successor the noted Heraclion, exhibits a view that the smallest details of the scriptural text were to be regarded as divinely inspired and intended. In fact, so intense and widespread was quotation from scripture, that 5 writers exhibit, as Bruce shows, knowledge of some 20 books of the New Testament as we pass to the early years of the 100's.
Let us confirm now the emphasis on the authority and precision attributed to scripture, with one more example. A little before Valentinus comes the heretic Basilides (c. 120 A.D.). He too evinces the view of the New Testament as divinely inspired, uses many books of it and indeed cites Paul's doctrine on the plenary inspiration of scripture - I Corinthians 2:13! (R.L. Harris, Inspiration andCanonicity of the Bible, pp. 206 ff.).
In sum: Around 60 years from the crucifixion sufficed, then, to establish an agreed base of written doctrine of many books and broad Christian coverage; and shortly thereafter, we find more and more evidence of definitive attitudes in the Christian Church to the divine origins and authority of an accepted corpus of many books, intimately related to the Messiah's name and apostles. Some 30 years into that 60 suffice for the first clear swath of evidence of authoritative, coalescing, apostolic or parallel written testimony (cf. Galatians 2:1-10; and I Timothy , linking Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7).
A priori, we might well have been interested to enquire how long it would take the facts so to make impact on the people, that agreed and cohesive records could be received; how long before these would be given divine status, like that of the Old Testament in the general Jewish (*5) milieu; and how long before this basic category and status was agreed. In fact, most of these steps, and the many more implicit in them from a practical viewpoint, were well developed within living memory of the Cross.
It must, looking now at this face, be admitted that even granting the entire truth of Christ, this speed is startling. It coheres perfectly with the driving, divine dynamic of triumphant evidence and visible power. Added to truth, such events as these, and episodes like Pentecost seem clearly requisite.
Further, all these books, this authoritative collection, give to us so clear, so unitary, so cohesive and yet obviously so free, frank and individual an account of things that Dr Albert Schweitzer, of African fame, was impelled to show that it was impossible to separate strands of teaching within the record of Christ, to form teaching contrary to His declared status as God-man.
Always, everywhere in the scripture, he noted, this supernatural basis is evident for Christ, is impressive, implicit, explicit, inevitable. You cannot dissect it away, try as you will, he demonstrated (and many have tried), from the written record. Now that, as we have shown, would have been a predictable result in view of the nature of the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament.
For us, the crucial point- stressing as always the evidence - is that this canonical evidence verifies such a prediction with immovable solemnity.
all this is strange fare for one who would consider
that this assured mass of detail so sweepingly took the field against all comers and reigned,
effectually unchallenged and supreme for all practical purposes,
as a basis for a hated church,
an annoyance to the Jews,
and indeed a developing threat,
and a bellicose buzzing for the very empire of Rome.
impressive, odd, and arresting indeed that no one removed the thing,
by the simple expedient of noting that Jesus Christ did not exist;
that the King of the Jews never had been;
that this wonder worker did not work wonders;
or that He did not appear in memory among men.
It would be odd, that is, if such a contention had any possibility of success...
in face of the positive and well-known evidence.
That such an obvious tool of triumph for unbelief was not used, or disastrously useless,
is a fact of the most notable dimensions. Let us now refresh our memories on these underlying points.
While these widely circulating documents of the New Testament (*6) relate the endless ring of the charge and challenge, for those who heard it to savour anew: fact, fact and re-fact - public fact, criminal fact, miraculous fact, repetitive fact - arresting fact, involving mordant charges against official and religious authorities; yet in the face of all this factual appeal by the exponents of Christianity, never once was the exposed and beating heart of the religion stabbed. Never was it despatched by the sacred dagger of truth... that is, if truth it were that it was fictitious fancies, contra-factual, anti-historical, remote from acknowledged reality, in terms of evidence.
Motive was there, motive aplenty; more than usual grounds for the 'death' abounded. Yet despite this, the buoyancy, unison and cohesion of Christianity moved like a phalanx on wings, like a tank force with truth for traction, remorselessly unvanquished, and mounting after torturous suffering, suddenly to subdue and eventually to capture the whole empire ... all the power, and vested threatened power, of priest and Caesar notwithstanding.
This is not to condone the political usage of Christianity; it is to note the objective fact of the triumphant overturning of all opposition. Suffering is part of the prescribed cost of discipleship in attesting the remedy of God to the unabating, indeed mounting, and predictively mounting wings of wickedness of the world. It is not its lessening for a time in this overturning which is our concern; it is the thrust of the original realities of Christ in their initial Jewish and Roman milieu, as evidential testimony which is our pertinent consideration.
To this, there was no answer. There still is none. The same recipe of violence still fails. And now, furthermore, it is even more difficult to crucify the only thing left to crucify - the facts. The motive to do so, however remains unchanged, and the blood still flows(*7), though Christ's be dry.
Christ as God...
You are left with the dilemma already posed in this work, the irrational alternatives available in seeking to assess Christ, if not as the Son of God. These, as we have shown, offer no logical attraction. The fact, the fact is there: recalcitrant to solution in any humanistic solvent - the fact of Christ as God. It is not reason which can avoid it.
The witness then of an overwhelming testimony of the evidence... personal, propositional, scriptural and ecclesiastical, historical, prophetic and contemporary, is that not only was Jesus Christ a figure on the earth. Not only was He a prominent figure on the stage of history: not merely a dominant figure in the avenues of time, He was also a figure of sovereign stature. He was not in a category. His personality, His words, His deeds, His pronouncements, His prophecies, His diagnosis, His remedy, His direction of future and current events, His propositional declarations of the nature of all things, and His practical power to perform in total efficacy what He declared to be true, breathing a Book, the New Testament by a sublimely harmonious yet wholly free sovereignty over the spirits of men, giving birth to a church directed and corrected by the Book, and enabled by His Spirit: these things designate Him not merely unique - for the earth has never beheld His like. As we have seen His stature in Chapter 6, so now we see the shadow it has cast; and both cohere with the closeness of clothes to a body.
These are the comprehensive habiliments, this is the distinguishing dress of Deity; for though, as the scripture says, He was in the form of God, He took the form of man, of a servant yet without sin. His coming therefore involves a clash and a catastrophe, for men, religious or otherwise in such fraudulent, misnamed churches as seek to arrogate the divine autonomy to themselves, latter day exemplars of the predicted falling away ( Chapters 8-9, supra, esp: pp. 699-707 supra). It is so, as His word continues; it was so as He came as the living Word. That same coming of Christ, however, also provides the path to divine grace and power, the authority, the truth, the charity, the harmony, the peace and the certainty that He named ( John 20:21, 14:27 ).
That is to those who believe, receive, repent and are redeemed by Him. These, though now in the form of flesh shall inherit because of Him, the position of children adopted through Him: adopted by the everlasting incandescent and holy God. As God came to man, so these through this same Christ will come to God as Father, in His very presence (1 Timothy 6:16, 1 Corinthians 13:12, Revelation 21:3, 7, 23, 22:3-4, Romans 8:15-16).
It is this Jesus Christ who, in the form of God, has created with the Father and the Spirit, our hearts, our history and our hopes. Once deny Him on the stage of your heart and your destiny is a due and just dereliction:
This is their condemnation, that light is come into the world and men have preferred darkness to light. (John 3:18-19, Proverbs 8:12-30, Collosians 1.)
How great is that darkness; and how great the light !
To keep this work to a reasonable scope, we do not pursue needless detail in peripheral points outside the major thrust of our method. However, this is not to say the relevant material is not available for study, should the avenue prove of special attraction. The above provide elsewhere on this site, further data.
In addition, are recommended altogether, or for useful data:
The Infallible Word A symposium from Westminster Theological Seminary (esp. here the chapter on The Authority of the New Testament by N.B. Stonehouse)
Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, R. Laird Harris
The Archeology of the New Testament, E.M. Blaiklock
Who Moved the Stone ? Frank Morrison
Modern Discovery and the Bible, A. Rendle Short
The Identity of the New Testament Text, Wilbur N. Pickering
Why Believe ? A. Rendle Short; Jesus Christ ... Gene Scott
Christianity: The Witness of History, J.N.D. Anderson
History of the Christian Church, Vols.1-2, Philip Schaff
Documents of the Christian Church, Henry Bettenson
The Christian Faith in the Modern World, J. Gresham Machen
What is Faith, and Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen
Runaway World, Michael Green; By What Authority?, Bruce Shelley
New Testament Times, Merrill C. Tenney
The Battle For The Bible, & The Bible In The Balance, Harold Lindsell
The Ante-Nicene Fathers,Vol.l Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson.
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