Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book Review: The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas

The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas is a thorough and solid presentation of the historical evidences of the life of Jesus. Countering much of the skeptical authorship and questionable scholarship that can be seen in today’s treatment of the Jesus of history, Habermas takes a simple and straightforward approach to the subject. He presents a clear picture of Jesus and shows the reader the evidence from a wide array of historical sources.

Part One of the book addresses the challenges to the historicity of Jesus. Some make the claim that we cannot know the true Jesus of history. Others deny that he ever lived. Still others bend history to a sort of mythology that cannot be expected to be taken literally. Habermas shows that each of these claims simply do not comport with the evidence and with a reasonable reading of the historical sources.

Another key element addressed by Habermas is the presuppositions that historians and scholars are bringing to their reading of history. For example, an a priori rejection of miracles: “An a priori dismissal cannot be allowed, even if we do not like the conclusion that is indicated by the facts. One must decide on the basis of the known evidence.” The author shows that philosophies of naturalism and the rejection of miracles cause these scholars to disallow the plain meaning of the texts.

Habermas devotes a chapter to rebutting the Jesus Seminar, a group of mixed scholars that form a sort of liberal think-tank – whose conclusions are commonly regarded as on the fringe of credible scholarship. The seminar reports that eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels were not actually spoken by him. Clearly, Part One of The Historical Jesus shows the reader that the problem is not the lack of evidence, but the lack of honest interpretation of the evidence.

Part Two delves into the historical data for the life of Jesus. Habermas builds his case using the following data: creeds, archeology, non-Christian sources, and non-New Testament Christian sources. There is no shortage of evidence here to show that the New Testament itself is well supported by external historical sources.

In all, Habermas examines 45 ancient sources for the life of Jesus. From this he gathers 129 reported facts concerning the life, person, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. From these facts, all of them corroborate the claims of the New Testament, many of which affirm central teachings and doctrines found in the New Testament.

What sets this book apart for this reviewer is its straightforward approach. Habermas does not try to read between the lines, redefine, or reinterpret history. He just plainly presents evidence after evidence that all attest to the historicity of the life of Jesus. He rebuts the most notable liberal and skeptical claims using evidence and a logical plain reading of history. The plain facts make a powerful argument for the New Testament as the most reliable historical record of the life of Jesus Christ.


Jon said...

Brian, this assertion that people reject miracles because they don't
"like" what they imply is just nonsense. We discount miracle claims not because they are impossible, but because they are so extraordinarily unlikely that the amount of evidence needed to justify them would likewise have to be extraordinary to command our belief.

I mean seriously. What should we conclude when we're told that Charlie Manson levitated a bus over a creek crag, or that Benny Hinn raised the dead, or that Joseph Smith healed the sick? We don't discount them because we know for certain they are false "a priori" but because we know these things are claimed often, yet we have no verifiable evidence that they have ever occurred before. Might be true, but to persuade us we'd need tons of evidence, and it just isn't available.

This assertion that skeptics reject miracles a priori due to some irrational bias against the supernatural is a pure fiction. It's one of many that you'll need to discard if you're interested in truth. Here is how David Hume put it. Tell me this isn't eminently reasonable.

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish... When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider... whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other... and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates-then, and not until then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."[Hume, "of Miracles"]

Anonymous said...

Honestly your entire review is credulous and if you think the Jesus seminar is a 'fringe' group then you are seriously out to lunch.

The level of scholarship present within that group is tremendous. Just because it doesn't mesh with your notions doesn't make you bank handed slap correct.

Lastly this book is simply inaccurate in many places and is a rehash of information that can be found in many sources. All honest scholars admit the evidence for Jesus is very thin. Nothing is new under the sun there.

The section on miracles is particuarlly weak and totally devoid of logic.

Brian said...


Thanks for reading this book review.

I didn't write this review as an argument. I wrote it as a review of what Habermas covers in his book. This post was clearly not written as a "case for miracles", so don't treat it as such. I wrote a paragraph about why Habermas thinks most scholars reject historical accounts as trustworthy. If you want to hear what Habermas' FULL opinion is, go read his book and them write him a letter and tell him your opinion. He writes a whole chapter on it. I wrote a paragraph about his chapter. Why so trigger-happy with a rebuttal to my simple review?

As I have mentioned before, I don't use my blog as debate forum.
If you want to talk to someone about miracles, then I would point you here:

The Problem Of Miracles:A Historical And Philosophical Perspective
Dr. William Lane Craig

Brian said...

Dear anonymous,
You are a very prolific writer, as I have seen your posts all over the internet in virtually every forum or blog I have read! Your views vary quite a bit, and you contradict yourself all the time. I do like some of your poems though.

This is a book review, and in it I describe Habermas' views. You should read Habermas and criticize him. When Habermas describes them as a fringe group, he is saying that most people disagree with their overly skeptical views.

When you say that "all honest scholars admit evidence for Jesus is very thin" you are going against even the Jesus seminar would claim. That puts you on the fringe of the fringe!

Refuting the Jesus Seminar 1 & 2:

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