Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre

The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for ChristThe Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
About ten years ago, while waiting at the Pittsburgh Airport, I met a young biblical scholar named Dr. Brant Pitre. We were both heading to the same biblical conference so we rode together, and in the car we had a lively discussion about biblical interpretation, especially the reliability of the Gospels.

Dr. Pitre shared how annoyed he was by the oft-used comparison between the transmission of the story of Jesus and the “Telephone game” where little children whisper a story to one another, around a group, until the end result is completely garbled and nothing like the original story.

I turned around to Dr. Pitre (I was in the front seat and he in the back) and said, “Yes! Someone needs to write a book dedicated to refuting that stupid comparison.”
Brant Pitre went ahead and wrote it himself. And a darned good book it is.

I've never been subjected to that particular comparison. The one that drives me absolutely nuts is that Jesus didn't ever say he was God.
As we will see, the evidence in the Gospels suggests that Jesus did in fact claim to be God. He did so, however, in a very Jewish way. ... I cannot stress enough: just because Jesus did not go around Galilee shouting, "I am God!" does not mean that he didn't claim to be divine.
Thank you!

There is a lot of confusion out there about Jesus and you've probably come across various claims that "prove" Jesus was not God. These range from the idea the Gospels were anonymous, the existence of "lost" Gospels, the Gospels are folklore instead of biographies, a lack of evidence for the Resurrection, and more.

Just as he did in another of his books that I really liked, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Pitre painstakingly builds his defense of Jesus. For each skeptical claim, there is a meticulous evidence trail examining Jesus, historical evidence, Jewish understanding, 1st century cultural context, and why we can trust what we've been told. This might sound drawn out or difficult, but I found it flowed easily and was easy to understand.

I myself especially appreciated that Pitre never lets us forget the inherently Jewish nature of Jesus' teachings and his listeners' understanding. The parallels he points out, often in very clear charts, can be stunningly revealing.

Here's a fairly lengthy excerpt from the chapter about the crucifixion. It illustrates how carefully the examples are drawn. Speaking about the temple of Jesus' body, Pitre quotes Josephus who says the number of lambs sacrificed during Passover was 256,500, and then tells us:
According to ancient Jewish tradition, before the Temple was destroyed in AS 70, the blood of the sacrifices used to be poured into a drain that flowed down the altar of sacrifice to merge with a spring of water that flowed out from the side of the mountain on which the Temple was built:
At the south-western corner [of the Altar] there were two holes like two narrow nostrils by which the blood that was poured over the western base and the southern base used to run down and mingle in the water-channel and flow out into the brook Kidron. (Mishnah Middoth 3:2)
So at the time Jesus lived, if you were approaching the Temple during the feast of Passover from the vantage point of the Kidron Valley, what might you have seen? A stream of blood and water, flowing out of the side of the Temple Mount.

Once you've got this first-century Jewish context in mind, all of a sudden John's emphasis on the blood and water flowing out of the side of Jesus makes sense. This seemingly small detail about his death actually reveals something deeply significant about who Jesus really is. He is not just the messianic son of God; he is the true Temple. In other words, Jesus is the dwelling place of God on earth. For that's what the Temple was to a first-century Jew. As Jesus himself says elsewhere: "He who swears by the Temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it" (Matthew 23:21).
Woah! If that doesn't give you a thrill of discovery, what will?

Definitely highly recommended.

NOTE: I had both a print galley, which was nicely designed, and the audio version, which was as well read as any material like this can be. I can recommend either or both, depending on your preference.

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