Thursday, April 27, 2006

Baigent, O'Reily and the Gospels

Last night I was flipping channels (it was actually more than a week ago now, but I started this post the next morning), staying close the the NBA playoffs, but venturing as far away from TNT as FoxNews. I'm not a regular OReily Factor consumer, but last night Michael Baigent, the author of the Jesus Papers, appeared as a guest.

You may have heard of Baigent - he sued the author of the Davinci Code for plagiarism in British courts and lost. Both Brown and Baigent put forward theories that Jesus was not crucified but lived, got married and had progeny. This fact, according to both authors, has been covered up by the church in the greatest conspiracy ever. In fact, the legendary 'holy grail' is not a literal cup; instead, the holy grail is Christ's bloodline.

I found the discussion to be entertaining, and yet also very frustrating. Obviously Baigent has little or no regard for the historical veracity of the New Testament, particularly the gospels. From what I knew of him I didn't think he would. And I didn't expect OReily to have a high regard for them either. However, I was frustrated that neither gentlemen even engaged the gospels or the historicity of them - they were simply dismissed. The most that was said was when OReily stated, "the best available history comes from the gospels which aren't history..." (loose quote).

Well, frankly, I disagree. The gospels are history. They claim to be historical. They place themselves squarely in the historical. Just read the gospels and see how each author places the events within the historical setting of the time - they mention governors and emperors, kings and chief priests, they record genealogies. They were certainly inspired by the Spirit to write what they wrote, but they also did research (particularly Luke). They relied on eye witness accounts - there own or others. Certainly they were recording the history of a specific man in a specific area at a specific time to make a specific point.

It is this last statement, that they were writing to make a point or for a purpose that I guess gives people the idea that what they were writing wasn't historical. The idea is the historical writing must be done in a disinterested way - the facts and nothing but the facts, no interpretation of fact, no comment on the facts, no real purpose in writing other than leaving a historical record of what happened. Well, the authors of the gospels certainly did not record the history of Jesus in that fashion. They had opinions about what transpired, they interpreted the facts, they commented and they had a purpose (see John 20:30-31). However, they are not unlike any other historian in this.

I think it is naive to think that one can be entirely objective, entirely without bias, entirely without opinion when recording history. Nor do we need to be. Everyone writes with a perspective, with opinions and to make a point. This does not, however, undermine the historicity of the gospels. The writers witnessed the most important event in human history - the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ - God incarnate. Of course they had opinions, but of course they were careful in reporting the events accurately as they knew their import.