The Supernatural Christ

It would be easier to believe the story of a mere religious teacher without the miracles than with them. That goes without saying. But not to believe the story of the life upon earth of the incarnate Son of God. The whole appearance of such a divine Person upon earth is itself a stupendous miracle. The individual miracles, with their individual attestation, do make it easier to believe that great central miracle. They are proofs of it. They are exactly what the Bible represents them as being—true testimonies to the truth of that stupendous claim of Jesus to be very God.

It is interesting to observe the way in which the miracles of the life of Christ have been treated in the history of modern unbelief. The cardinal principle of unbelief is that miracles have never happened.

The “quest of the historical Jesus,” as it has been called—this effort to take the miracles out of the Gospels—has proved to be a colossal failure.

At first, it seemed to be quite easy to get the miracles out of the Gospels. All we shall have to do, said the skeptical historians, is just to take the miracles out and leave all the rest.

David Friedrich Strauss published his Life of Jesus in 1835. His book remains to the present day perhaps the fullest compendium of what can be said against the truthfulness of the Gospel narratives. Yet such a book had at least the use, in the providence of God, of demolishing the rationalizing method of dealing with the miracle-narratives in the Gospels. In those narratives, Strauss said, the miracles are the main thing; they are the thing for which all the rest exists. How absurd, then, to say that the narratives have grown up out of utterly trivial events upon which a supernaturalistic interpretation was wrongly put!

Then an attempt was made to repair the damage done by Strauss. I am not referring to the defense of the Gospels by believing scholars, but I am referring to the attempt by men of Strauss’s own way of thinking—men, that is, who like Strauss denied the occurrence of miracles—to discover and make use of the modicum of truth that might be thought to remain in the Gospels after criticism had been given its rights.

Possibly, it was supposed, that modicum of truth might be discovered by what is called “source-criticism.” The Gospels, it was admitted, contain much that is untrue, but if we could discover the earlier sources used by the writers of the Gospels we might get much nearer to the facts. Well, an imposing attempt was made in that direction. The Gospel According to John was rejected as almost altogether unhistorical, and then the two chief sources of Matthew and Luke were held to be (1) Mark and (2) a lost source composed chiefly of sayings of Jesus as distinguished from accounts of his deeds.

On the basis of that theory a supposedly historical account of a purely human Jesus was constructed. People became quite enthusiastic about it. The troublesome miracles, it was supposed, were all removed; the theological Christ of the creeds was done away. But, it was said, something better had been rediscovered—a really and purely human Jesus.

But alas for human hopes! The imposing reconstruction of the Liberal Jesus has fallen to the ground. I think the first thirty-five years of the twentieth century might almost be called, in the sphere of New Testament criticism, the period of the decline and fall of “the Liberal Jesus.”

The great trouble is that the miraculous in the Gospels is found to be much more pervasive than it was at first thought to be. It runs through the Gospels as we now have them. That is clear. But it also is found to run through the sources supposed rightly or wrongly to underlie the Gospels. Suppose we go even back of those earliest written sources and examine supposed detached bits of oral tradition out of which they are sometimes supposed to have been composed. Alas, we obtain no relief. Those supposed detached bits are found themselves to contain the objectionable miraculous element. There seems to be no escape from the supernatural Christ. At the very beginning of the Church Jesus was regarded not just as a religious teacher or just as a prophet but as a supernatural Deliverer.

Very well, what shall we do about it? The earliest view of Jesus that we know anything about represents him as a supernatural person. It is found to exhibit a remarkable unanimity at this point. There are only two things to do. We can take it or we can leave it.

Modern skeptical historians are saying we must leave it. All our information about Jesus is supernaturalistic, they are saying; therefore all our information about Jesus is uncertain. We can never disentangle the real Jesus from the beliefs of his earliest followers. The only Christ we really know is the supernatural Christ of Jesus’ earliest followers. We can never rediscover the portrait of the real Jesus.

Skepticism like that is easily refuted by a mere reading of the Gospels. Read the Gospels for yourselves, and then ask yourselves whether the Person there presented to you is not a living, breathing person.—J. G. M.

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