Mid-Watch Report: May 2006
Who’s Telling the Truth About Jesus?

by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy

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Mid-Watch Report The American Night Watch (TM)

of  The American Night Watch
Vol. 7   No. 2   May 2006

Who’s Telling the Truth About Jesus?

Today there are many voices claiming to tell the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. Some of these voices claim that Christianity is at best old-fashioned and at worst a sham. The astute will notice, however, that there is seldom an effort by these voices to educate their hearers concerning the true nature of the case for Christianity. They seem to want everyone to believe that Christians are gullible people blindly given to wishful thinking. This is an easy way for them to promote their point of view. But it is wrong.

The Church’s claims about Jesus of Nazareth should never be rejected just on the basis of its critics arguments. Indeed, many well-educated, informed people have come to faith in Jesus Christ through the centuries and in our own time as well. It can be very helpful to pull aside the burial shroud the critics seem to want to wrap around Christianity today and discover why Christianity is a living faith.

The Foundation of Christian Belief

One word is essential to understanding the Church’s beliefs about Jesus of Nazareth: witness (martureo, marturion), sometimes translated testimony.1 As with many other Christian concepts, the meaning of this term flows from the Old Testament.

The Ten Commandments were delivered to the Israelites through Moses very soon after their arrival at Mount Sinai. These commandments defined how the people were to live to reflect the nature of their God — the same God who had just delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

The ninth commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20). The Hebrew word used here for witness, (`ed, is used in reference to legal matters in the Old Testament. Carl Schultz observed that in the Old Testament “a witness is a person who has firsthand knowledge of an event or one who can testify on the basis of a report which he has heard (Leviticus 5:1).”2 People who presented a false witness in criminal cases were given the same penalty they attempted to bring upon the accused (Deuteronomy 19:16-21). The concept of witness also related to contractual matters, the witness acting in a similar capacity to the notary public in society today (Ruth 4:9-11).

The concept of witness was not limited to legal and civil matters, however, it also described the role of Israel in the world. Using the same word for witness that is used in the Ten Commandments, Isaiah wrote, “‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen’” (Isaiah 43:10). Here, God reminded the Israelites that He had brought them into existence by His sovereign activity so that they would fulfill His purposes for them (Isaiah 43:1, 15, 44:1-8; cf. 1 Peter 2:9, 10). In this respect it is important to notice that God assigned this mission to the Israelites immediately upon their arrival at Mount Sinai and just prior to His delivering the Ten Commandments — the same Ten Commandments that included the command not to bear false witness — for the Israelites were to stand as priests who brought the world to the true knowledge of God (Exodus 19:4-6). The related concept of “truth” is, therefore, of central importance in both Judaism and Christianity.3

The bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament is found in the ministry of John the Baptist. This has tremendous significance for the ministry of Jesus Christ, because it ties the morality of the Old Testament to the New Testament witness to Jesus of Nazareth. Multitudes of people, both Jew and Gentile, went to hear John preach, and many were baptized (Mark 1:5, cf. Luke 3:7).

John called upon his hearers to repent of their sins. Inasmuch as the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets defined sin in John’s preaching, the Ten Commandments were part of the morality he called people to live out. A stress upon honesty was, therefore, inherent in his ministry. Luke tells us specifically that John told Roman soldiers to cease bringing false accusations (Luke 3:14).4

Jesus, by being baptized by John, identified with sinners, accepted His mission as Messiah, and committed Himself to the morality of the Law and the Prophets preached by John. Further, the Twelve disciples, the Apostles whom Jesus would send out to found His Church, were also present with John (Acts 1:21-26; cf. John 1:35-37). The ministry of John the Baptist was, therefore, foundational to the ministry of Jesus Christ and the founding of His Church in more than one way; which accounts for its inclusion in all four Gospels. It underscores the morality that was practiced by those who would testify to the life and message of Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist was the first witness to Jesus (John 1:6-8, 31-34, 5:33; Acts 13:23-25). Jesus was opposed and later crucified because of His witness to His own identity and mission (Matthew 26:62-68, 27:11-17; Mark 14:60-64; Luke 22:66-71; John 5:18, 30-37, 10:30-33; 19:7, 8). Jesus’ disciples, the Twelve Apostles, were to carry on a witness of preaching and teaching (Luke 24:44-48; Acts 1:8; cf. Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Peter 1:16-18, 1 Corinthians 15:15). The apostle Paul was also called to be a witness to the risen Christ (Acts 20:24, 22:15, 26:16; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8-10). Ceslas Spicq wrote of the early church, “All missionary preaching is a marturion announcing the advent of salvation (1 Corinthians 1:6, 2:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Timothy 2:6; 2 Timothy 1:8), so that it can be said that the disciples ‘hold to the testimony of Jesus’ (Revelation 12:17; cf. 19:10, 20:4; Acts 22:20).”5

Any fair reading of the books of the New Testament, then, indicates that the witness given by the early followers of Jesus Christ was inseparably linked to honesty.

The Witness of the Early Church

Although early Christians were deeply concerned with honesty as part of their commitment to God, some critics, nevertheless, suggest that early Christians had no concept of what it means to render a credible witness.

One of the first things to be considered, in this regard, is that the Bible consists of a number of separate writings that were later brought together into the single book we call, “The Bible.” Each of the 27 books of the New Testament was authored as a separate writing; with the exception of Luke and Acts, which form a unit. Early churches had just a few of these documents. As time went on, the churches received copies of others.

The writings we have in our New Testament were always held to be authoritative, while other writings were rejected. The Church did not confer authority upon these writings; it recognized the authority that the writings had always held. Some were authored by Apostles. In any case, their content was consistent with the teaching of the Apostles (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Galatians 2:1-9). Our confidence in the integrity of these writings today comes from the fact that there are more ancient manuscripts supporting the text of the New Testament than any other ancient writings. These manuscripts, as well as quotes from these texts by the early Church Fathers, have been carefully studied for hundreds of years. Therefore, we can have great confidence that the text we have is very close to the exact text of the earliest writings.

One of the earliest of these writings is 1 Corinthians. Chapter 15 contains the earliest presentation of the Gospel in the New Testament. Early in this chapter, Paul identifies the witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that in addition to the Twelve and James, more than five hundred people had met with Jesus after He had risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). Paul’s knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus came from those who personally witnessed it. Paul also wrote of his own encounter with the risen Christ, but was careful to keep it separate (1 Corinthians 15:3, 8-10). Paul wrote that if he and the others proclaimed that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead when Jesus had not, that they would be “found to be false witnesses (pseudomartures) of God” (1 Corinthians 15:15).

Luke wrote that he investigated carefully and presented the events and teachings, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1-4). In Acts, Luke wrote that after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus “presented himself alive after his suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days . . .” (Acts 1:3). He reported that the risen Christ invited people to touch Him and ate with them, then told His followers, “You are witnesses . . .” (Luke 24:36-48; cf. Acts 10:40-42). John also told how the risen Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him and wrote that in addition to what he presented in his Gospel, “many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:26-31).

Similarly, teachings of Jesus were presented by those who had personally witnessed His teaching ministry. The author of Hebrews wrote of the teaching of Jesus, “it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard” (Hebrews 2:3). John wrote, “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life . . . what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you . . .” (1 John 1:1, 3).

It is clear that the writers of the New Testament not only had a deep commitment to honesty, they understood what it meant to provide a credible witness to the events and teachings of Jesus’ life.

The Ongoing Witness

If Christians had an easy time of it, it might be possible to argue that people joined the Church for trite or silly reasons. However, this was not the case. Christians were soon persecuted, first by the religious leaders of Judaism, then by the Roman government. For hundreds of years, to become a Christian meant risking torture, imprisonment, and death. It was during this time that the Greek word for witness – martus – took on the meaning so closely associated with the word “martyr” today— a person who dies for what he or she believes. Christians witnessed with their words and sealed their testimony with their blood.

Those who gave their lives did not do so for just a feeling or an idea. They did it to serve a living Lord. Since the time of the Apostles, the Church’s task has been to protect and transmit the Apostolic witness to the Person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Paul exhorted Timothy to “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you,” and directed “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 1:14, 2:2; cf. 1 Timothy 6:20). For Paul, “the church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

The testimony of the Holy Spirit comes through the Church’s witness to the world in word and deed (Romans 10:12-15; 2 Corinthians 2:17-3:4). Theologian Alan Richardson wrote,

The Spirit who interprets the Scriptures is none other than the Risen Lord himself (Luke 24:13-35; John 14:26; 16:13f.; 2 Corinthians 3:17f.); the paradosis (tradition) of the Church is actually shaped and guided by the Spirit of the Risen Christ — that apostolic paradosis which was even now being written down in what eventually became known in the Church as the Scriptures of the New Testament. Christ was speaking through the Spirit the “many things” which his disciples could not bear (understand, receive) in the days of his flesh (John 16:12-15; 14:26). The Spirit of Christ who is the Lord of the Church’s paradosis, is also the Spiritus Interpres Scripturae of the Old Covenant. . . . Christ is the interpreting Spirit . . .” (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:17).6

In our time, many seem to be paranoid about traditions, believing that any information or insight that is handed down to them is hopelessly outdated . . . or worse. However, the mindless rejection of tradition is no better than the uncritical acceptance of all traditions. An empty or misguided tradition is one we can certainly ill-afford to keep, and Christianity opposes such traditions.7 But, a good tradition is an inheritance that can enrich our lives, and the Christian witness falls here. From the time of Jesus down to our time, many millions of people have been enriched by the Apostolic witness to Jesus Christ.

Part of the Church’s witness has been the faithful preservation of the documents of the New Testament that contain this witness. Many people across the centuries dedicated their lives to making accurate copies of the manuscripts. Although they made some mistakes, comparison of the manuscripts and quotes of the writings have enabled scholars to determine the original text.

The preservation of the witness of the Old Testament to Christ was also important. In the first written presentation of the Gospel, Paul stressed that it was in accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). Paul advised Timothy to continue to study and live out their teachings (2 Timothy 3:14-17). Paul’s practice on his missionary journeys was to enter synagogues and show how Jesus fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament (Acts 13:27-32, 17:2-3, 11, 24:14, 26:22, 23, 28:23; cf. Romans 1:1-6). Apollos had a special gift for this kind of preaching (Acts 18:28).

Jesus said to His critics, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39; cf. Acts 3:18; Luke 24:25-27). Peter said, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His Name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). The Old Testament, thus, becomes part of the Christian tradition handed down to us.

Weighing the Evidence

Although the human beings who comprise the Christian church are never completely beyond criticism, their testimony is adequate to bless because of the witness they convey. With regard to honesty, Paul wrote, “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. . . . we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17, 4:2). Further, both the Church’s witness to Jesus and the history of the Biblical manuscripts are open to scrutiny.8 In this regard, Paul said of the events recorded in the New Testament, “this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).

Can the critics of Christianity say as much? Upon scrutiny, their arguments often seem rooted in bias, often aren’t well supported, and often prove false; and their motives often don’t seem so pure.9

In the end, the issue isn’t about which ideas are most entertaining or new. It is about the true way to be blessed by God through knowing the Truth about the real Jesus who said “Come to Me . . . .” -SMD


Related Readings in print and at this Web Site:

Among the readings available on this subject:



1 The more common forms of this word group in the New Testament and the number of times each appears are: martureo 76 times, marturomai 5 times, diamarturomai 15 times, marturia 37 times, marturion 19 times, and martus 35 times. Warren C. Trenchard, Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1998), 68.

2 Carl Schultz, “`ed. Witness,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 648.

3 Old Testament Hebrew 'emet, cf. Exodus 18:21; Psalm 15:1-3; Proverbs 12:19; Isaiah 43:9; Zechariah 8:16. New Testament Greek aletheia, cf. John 17:17; Ephesians 4:15, 25; Colossians 3:9, 10; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 John 1:6, 2:4, 21; 3 John 1:8, 12; cf. James 3:17.

4 sukothantesete, translated “accuse falsely” in the NASB and similarly in other versions, is from the verb sukothanteo, which occurs in the NT in Luke 3:14 and 19:8. The English word sycophant derives from the noun form of this word. It originally referred to individuals who made their living wandering Athens looking for ways to make money by bringing accusations against people. Aristophanes satirized them in his plays The Birds and Plutus. These informers served themselves rather than justice. It was to their advantage to falsify and distort charges. It is not difficult to imagine how Roman soldiers and tax collectors could have used their position as representatives of the Roman government to extort payment by threatening to bring false or distorted charges against the Jews of Palestine in NT times.

5 Ceslas Spicq, “martus,” Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 2, trans. and ed. James D. Ernest (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 449.

6 Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1958), 121.

7 Jesus opposed harmful traditions in Matthew 15:5-9; Mark 7:5-13 (cf. Isaiah 26:13). Paul opposed harmful traditions in Colossians 2:8, 16-23.

8 See Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, 3rd edition, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003).

9 See Michael Green, The Books the Church Suppressed (Grand Rapids: Monarch Books, 2005) and Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nashville, Tennessee, Nelson Books, 2004).

The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.

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Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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