Explore the birth of Christianity

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How do you reconcile minor differences in the four Gospels? How did a small following by a few ordinary people become a worldwide faith? These questions and more are explored in one of the most fascinating research books I've read in a while.

Robert J. Hutchinson is author of "The Dawn of Christianity: How God Used Simple Fishermen, Soldiers and Prostitutes to Transform the World." Nelson Books is the publisher.

Hutchinson studied philosophy in college and moved to Israel to learn Hebrew. Hutchinson said he learned Hebrew as a living language, which is different than in seminaries.

Robert J. Hutchinson

He earned a graduate degree in the New Testament. He wrote "Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth," an overview of recent archaeological finds in biblical scholarship that question much of what skeptical scholars have assumed about Jesus.

"The Dawn of Christianity" is a treasure trove of archeological information that brings the land of Jesus alive. Hutchinson uses the most recent studies by Christian and secular scholars to reconstruct all of the known accounts of early resurrection appearances. He follows the witnesses of the resurrection through the persecution they suffered and how they began spreading throughout the world.

Hutchinson told me he does not think of his newest book as apologetics, although I believe it's great for that use. Hutchinson said he set out to retell the story of the New Testament with all the details the writers did not include, like the price of items and how people dressed.

"I've been interested in the details myself," he said. "Everyone (in Jesus' time) knew those, but for us, we don't know a lot of this stuff."

A former journalist, he applied the journalistic perspective.

Regarding Jesus, Hutchinson said, he launched a real movement that "electrified thousands of people across Israel. His message was very dangerous. It did challenge the status quo."

Jesus brought His message into the temple, the heart of His society.

"He knew it was going to get Him killed," Hutchinson said. "That's what I don't think people appreciate much. He knew it was a suicide mission."

The book is apologetic, Hutchinson said, in the sense that he takes the history seriously. The New Testament writers did not write "history" as modern Americans would define it, but they were telling about real historical events in their time and culture. If you know the "lay of the land" and have been to the locations of the New Testament, you see that with few exceptions, the Gospels fit together well.

Hutchinson said the takeaway from his book is that Christianity did not happen by accident. Scholars have been saying Jesus never intended to found a physical church but wanted to start a movement. However, the church in its earliest years reached out to recruit people of different, even conflicting, backgrounds from Samaritans to pagans. That's why it became successful. Persecution of Christians spread the religion and helped it grow.

"The kingdom of God is spreading through the world and the world is being transformed," he said. "We are here for a reason. We are part of that mission."

The book is much too detailed for me to explore all the ideas it presents. If you're at all serious about biblical scholarship, I urge you to read "The Dawn of Christianity."

-- Jason M. Reynolds is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette. His email is jreynolds@t-g.com.

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