As Easter draws near, we often hear breaking news of some sensational claim purporting to give us the “real” Jesus. This year, the headline enjoying its 15 minutes of fame is the so-called “Jesus Papers,” supposedly secret documents just now coming to light. Through vague references to those documents, and by artfully rewriting the New Testament, author Michael Baigent argues Jesus’ death and “resurrection” was a shameless con perpetrated by Jesus and Pilate.
Seriously. That’s his claim. Quite apart from the dubious “scholarship” involved, does anyone really believe that a person of Jesus’ moral character and courage–almost universally recognized by believers and non-believers alike–would deliberately deceive the world?
Don’t confuse the hype about the Jesus Papers with the legitimate breaking news about the release of the Gospel of Judas. That is truly an interesting bit of ancient history, just now coming to light under the auspices of the National Geographic Society. While there is nothing in the Gospel of Judas likely to challenge classical Christian doctrine, the book does shed additional light on an important fringe movement in early Christianity, namely, Gnosticism.
But the Jesus Papers is a poorly done rehash of another book from 40 years ago, The Passover Plot, which was completely discredited by scholars of both the left and the right. Ironically, Baigent, of all people, had the gall to sue Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, on charges of plagiarism! All of which goes to prove the saying, “What goes around, comes around.”
The supposedly “secret” documents Baigent cites are actually the so-called Gnostic Gospels, in circulation for years, along with a few dusty manuscripts tucked away in Vatican vaults. Nothing he reveals is new, except for his fanciful twisting of the facts to support his particular conspiracy theory. At least Dan Brown had the decency to call the Da Vinci Code what it is: religious fiction.
These sorts of books are to Christianity what herbal supplements are to medical science. There is often a nugget of truth nestled away amid the wildly exaggerated claims. The fact of the matter is (drum roll!): no one is trying to “hide” the “real” Jesus from the world. To the contrary, from the very beginning Jesus’ people, the church, have been trying to get out the news. God has decisively given Godself to the world in the person of God’s Son. And through faith in Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, one can have abundant life now and eternal life forever.
That’s the truth about Jesus. So go to church this Easter Sunday morning and join the faithful as they sing and shout the news, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” Now there’s a real news story for the ages.
Bob Setzer Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.