Heard, Seen, Looked at, and Touched (John 1:1-3)

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Is the Christian faith built upon eyewitness testimony, or is it a decades-later invention of people who never saw or heard Jesus?
Several years ago, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, a novel whose climax is the revelation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and bore children. Despite the fact that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, many readers took its claims about Jesus and Mary Magdalene literally. Such readers doubted that the whole truth about Jesus could be found in the New Testament Gospels or the creeds of the Christian church.
Not long after The Da Vinci Code topped the New York Times bestseller list, the National Geographic Society translated and published The Gospel of Judas, a fourth-century copy of a second-century Gnostic text. This so-called gospel presents Judas Iscariot in a radically different light than the New Testament Gospels present him. Rather than being Jesus’ betrayer, Judas Iscariot turns out to be Jesus’ best disciple.
The net effect of reading The Da Vinci Code and The Gospel of Judas is that some readers have become skeptical about the historical trustworthiness of the New Testament and, by extension, of the Christian faith itself. This skepticism is unwarranted for three basic reasons: (1) The Da Vinci Code is a novel whose historical claims are as fictional as its plot.[1] (2) The Gospel of Judas is a mid- to late-second-century text that has no connection to events in the first century.[2] And (3) the New Testament documents make a credible claim of being based on eyewitness testimony.[3]
Consider, in this regard, 1 John 1:1-3:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Notice John’s language: heard, seen, looked at, and touched. In these verses, John claims that the Christian faith which he proclaims is based upon eyewitness testimony, both his and others’. In Luke 1:2, Luke makes a similar claim about the contents of his Gospel, namely, that it is based on the testimony of “those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” And in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8, Paul claims that many people were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, including “Peter,” “the Twelve,” “more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time,” “James,” and Paul himself.
Either these claims are true, or they are false. If false, then we can know very little to nothing about the historical Jesus, for the New Testament documents are our best and oldest sources of information about him. But if true, then our very lives may depend on what these eyewitnesses heard, saw, looked at, and touched.

[1] The best expose of historical errors in The Da Vinci Code is Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004).
[2] Darrell L. Bock takes on The Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic gospels in The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nashville: Nelson, 2006). See also J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus: What The Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006).
[3] For a good introduction to the historical reliability of the New Testament, see Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity, 2005). For a scholarly defense of the eyewitness character of the Gospels, see Richard J. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006).

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