William Lane Craig
A comparison of how Jesus is described in the New Testament and in the Qur’an in order to determine which is more reliable.
Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential person who ever lived. Twenty centuries after his death, he continues to exert his power of fascination over the minds of thinking men and women. Peter Jennings’ television special “In Search of Jesus” attracted some 16 million viewers across the country. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” grossed 370 million dollars. Dan Brown’s book
The DaVinci Code
has been a runaway best seller, exceeding the 100 million mark in some 40 languages. People obviously continue to be fascinated by Jesus.
But who is Jesus really? Is he, as the Bible says, the divine Son of God? Or was he merely a human prophet, as Muslims have been taught to believe? Who is the real Jesus?
I propose to answer that question as a historian. I shall look at the New Testament and the Qur’an as the historian looks at any other sources for ancient history. I shall not treat them as inspired or holy books. Accordingly, I shall not require them to be inerrant or infallible in order to be valuable historical sources. By taking this historical approach, we prevent the discussion from degenerating into arguments over Bible difficulties or Qur’anic inconsistencies. The question is not whether the sources are inerrant but whether they allow us to discover who the historical Jesus really was.
Now in order to determine who the historical Jesus really was, we need to have some objective criteria for assessing our sources. Prof. John Meier, an eminent New Testament historian, lists the following four criteria:
Multiple, independent sources
. Events which are reported by independent, and especially early, sources are likely to be historical.
. If a saying or event is different from prior Judaism and also from later Christianity, then it probably doesn’t derive from either one and so belongs to the historical Jesus.
Sayings or events that would have been embarrassing or difficult for the Christian church are unlikely to have been invented and so are likely historical.
Rejection and execution
. Jesus’ crucifixion is so indisputably established as an anchor point in history that words and deeds of Jesus must be assessed in terms of their likelihood of leading to his execution as “King of the Jews.” A bland Jesus who just preached monotheism would never have provoked such opposition.
When we apply such criteria to the New Testament, we’re able to establish a good deal about the historical Jesus. Let me discuss just three of the facts that emerge about this remarkable man.