Who was in the manger on that first Christmas? Some say He would become a great moral leader. Others, a social critic. Still others view Jesus as a profound philosopher, a rabbi, a feminist, a prophet and more.
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El Caso de la Navidad
Un Periodista Investiga la Vida de un Nino en el Pesebre / The Case for Christmas
By Lee Strobel Vida Publishers
Copyright © 2006 Lee Strobel
All right reserved.
THE EYEWITNESS EVIDENCE: CAN THE BIOGRAPHIES OF JESUS BE TRUSTED?
When I first met soft-spoken Leo Carter, he was a seventeen-year-old veteran of Chicago's grittiest neighborhood. His testimony had put three killers in prison. And he was still carrying a .38-caliber slug in his head-a grisly reminder of a horrific saga that began when he witnessed Elijah Baptist gun down a local grocer.
Leo and a friend, Leslie Scott, were playing basketball when they saw Elijah, then sixteen years old, slay Sam Blue outside his grocery store. Leo had known the grocer since childhood. "When we didn't have any food, he'd give us some," Leo explained to me. "So when I went to the hospital and they said he was dead, I knew I'd have to testify about what I saw."
Eyewitness testimony is powerful. One of the most dramatic moments in a trial is when a witness describes the crime that he or she saw and then points confidently toward the defendant as being the perpetrator. Elijah Baptist knew that the only way to avoid prison would be to somehow prevent Leo Carter and Leslie Scott from doing just that.
So Elijah and two of hispals staged an ambush. Leslie and Leo's brother, Henry, were brutally murdered, while Leo was shot in the head and left for dead. But somehow, against all odds, Leo lived. The bullet, in a place too precarious to be removed, remained in his skull. Despite searing headaches that strong medication couldn't dull, he became the sole eyewitness against Elijah Baptist and his two cohorts. His word was good enough to land them in prison for the rest of their lives.
Leo Carter is one of my heroes. He made sure justice was served, even though he paid a monumental price for it. When I think of eyewitness testimony, even to this day-thirty years later-his face still appears in my mind.
Testimony from Distant Time
Yes, eyewitness testimony can be compelling and convincing. When a witness has had ample opportunity to observe a crime, when there's no bias or ulterior motives, when the witness is truthful and fair, the climactic act of pointing out a defendant in a courtroom can be enough to doom that person to prison or worse.
And eyewitness testimony is just as crucial in investigating historical matters-even the issue of whether the Christmas manger really contained the unique Son of God.
But what eyewitness accounts do we possess? Do we have the testimony of anyone who personally interacted with Jesus, who listened to his teachings, who saw his miracles, who witnessed his death, and who encountered him after his alleged resurrection? Do we have any records from first-century "journalists" who interviewed eyewitnesses, asked tough questions, and faithfully recorded what they scrupulously determined to be true?
INTERVIEW: CRAIG L. BLOMBERG, PHD
Craig Blomberg is widely considered one of the country's foremost authorities on the biographies of Jesus, which are called the four gospels. He received his doctorate in New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland, later serving as a senior research fellow for Tyndale House at Cambridge University in England, where he was part of an elite group of international scholars that produced a series of acclaimed works on Jesus. He is currently a professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
As he settled into a high-back chair in his office, cup of coffee in hand, I too sipped some coffee to ward off the Colorado chill. Because I sensed Blomberg was a get-to-the-point kind of guy, I decided to start my interview by cutting to the core of the issue.
"Tell me this," I said with an edge of challenge in my voice, "is it really possible to be an intelligent, critically thinking person and still believe that the four gospels were written by the people whose names have been attached to them?"
Blomberg set his coffee cup on the edge of his desk and looked intently at me. "The answer is yes," he said with conviction.
He sat back and continued. "It's important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous. But the uniform testimony of the early church was that Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector and one of the twelve disciples, was the author of the first gospel in the New Testament; that John Mark, a companion of Peter, was the author of the gospel we call Mark; and that Luke, known as Paul's 'beloved physician,' wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles."
"How uniform was the belief that they were the authors?" I asked.
"Then Irenaeus, writing about AD 180, confirmed the traditional authorship. In fact, here-," he said, reaching for a book. He flipped it open and read Irenaeus' words:
Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter's preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.
I looked up from the notes I was taking. "Okay, let me clarify this," I said. "If we can have confidence that the gospels were written by the disciples Matthew and John; by Mark, the companion of the disciple Peter; and by Luke, the historian, companion of Paul, and sort of a first-century journalist, we can be assured that the events they record are based on either direct or indirect eyewitness testimony."
As I was speaking, Blomberg was mentally sifting my words. When I finished, he nodded.
"Exactly," he said crisply.
Ancient Versus Modern Biographies
There were still some troubling aspects of the gospels that I needed to resolve. In particular, I wanted to better understand the kind of literary genre they represented. There were still some troubling aspects of the gospels.
"When I go to the bookstore and look in the biography section, I don't see the same kind of writing that I see in the gospels," I said. "When somebody writes a biography these days, they thoroughly delve into the person's life. But look at Mark-he doesn't talk about the birth of Jesus or really anything through Jesus' early adult years. Instead he focuses on a three-year period and spends half his gospel on the events leading up to and culminating in Jesus' last week. How do you explain that?"
Blomberg held up a couple of fingers. "There are two reasons," he replied. "One is literary and the other is theological.
"The literary reason is that basically, this is how people wrote biographies in the ancient world. They did not have the sense, as we do today, that it was important to give equal proportion to all periods of an individual's life or that it was necessary to tell the story in strictly chronological order or even to quote people verbatim, as long as the essence of what they said was preserved. Ancient Greek and Hebrew didn't even have a symbol for quotation marks.
Even so, according to the Bible, the fact that it did occur is not in any doubt. Every attribute of God, says the New Testament, is ultimately found in the Christmas child who grew up to live a life unlike any other:
Omniscience? In John 16:30 the apostle John affirms of Jesus, "Now we can see that you know all things."
Omnipresence? Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" and in Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Omnipotence? "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me," Jesus said in Matthew 28:18.
Eternality? John 1:1 declares of Jesus, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
Immutability? Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
Also, the Old Testament paints a portrait of God by using such titles and descriptions as Alpha and Omega, Lord, Savior, King, Judge, Light, Rock, Redeemer, Shepherd, Creator, giver of life, forgiver of sin, and speaker with divine authority. It's fascinating to note that in the New Testament each and every one is applied to Jesus.
As Lapides progressed through the Scriptures, he was stopped cold by Isaiah 53. With clarity and specificity, in a haunting prediction wrapped in exquisite poetry, here was the picture of a Messiah who would suffer and die for the sins of Israel and the world-all written more than seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
When Was Jesus Born?
History doesn't pinpoint Jesus' birthday. Spring is most likely, because shepherds were watching their flocks at night and this is when ewes bore their young. In fact, around AD 200, theologians concluded Jesus was born on May 20. "Others," said journalist Terry Mattingly, "argued for dates in April and March. This wasn't a major issue, since early Christians emphasized the Epiphany on January 6, marking Christ's baptism."
In AD 385, Pope Julius I declared December 25 as the day for celebrating Christ's birth. "He chose that date," Christian researcher Gretchen Passantino told me, "partly to challenge the pagan celebration of the Roman god Saturnalia, which was characterized by social disorder and immorality."
Excerpted from El Caso de la Navidad by Lee Strobel Copyright © 2006 by Lee Strobel. Excerpted by permission.
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