If you want to lay a golden egg in publishing, write about Jesus in a way that is provoking and controversial. While Muslims and the secular media will maim manuscripts on Mohammad, Jesus receives a free pass, and why not? For over twenty centuries, Jesus has been attacked or mistaken. In the fourth century, there had to be a council called in Nicea (AD 325) because Arius, a priest in Egypt, emphasized the divinity of God the Father but did not acknowledge Jesus as God the Son.
Throughout history, people and groups have attacked Jesus. From the Docetists, who did not believe Jesus had a physical body, to the Sabellianists, who believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were just portrayals of one person, not three, to Arians, who did not acknowledge Jesus as God, Christ has been attacked and misunderstood.
More recently, Dan Brown coined the Da Vinci Code, where Jesus was just a man and married to Mary Magdalene producing the Merovingian line, to Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth where Jesus is a political figure opposing the Roman Empire. Countless men and women claiming to have historical insight in conflict with the Bible acknowledge they have produced the definitive work on Jesus. When one analyzes these author’s facts, they not only conflict with the Bible but also each other.
Such is the case with Fox News giant Bill O’Reilly. A well-known news show host and author, O’Reilly claims to have the inside track on Jesus (an unoriginal claim based on above discussion).
In his 60 minutes interview with Norah O’Donnell (transcript of interview here), O’Reilly claims that his new book is “not a religious book. There’s no religion in the book, nothing. It’s all about history.”
O’Reilly admits that the book is sensational and says, “Of course it’s sensationalist. That’s who I am. I’m a sensationalist. I’m a big mouth. I get attention. In this world you have to–if you want a mass-market presentation, you have to get attention.” He commented before that the book “I just want to write about important things in a very entertaining way. That’s the formula.”
With words like “sensationalist” and “entertaining” used, it is hard to take a book seriously, especially since many before Bill also claim a special insight into Jesus.
Writing on the historical Jesus has been going on since, at the very latest, the 18th century. Coined- “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” -countless scholars have searched for the Jesus of history. Since the 18th century, there have been three “Quests” to discover a historical representation of Jesus all producing their own portraits.
William Lane Craig writes that people like O’Reilly, who believe they have decoded the historical Jesus, are really portraying their personal presuppositions. Craig writes, “Apparently unaware of the personal element they all brought to their research, each writer reconstructed a historical Jesus after his own image. There was Strauss’s Hegelian Jesus, Renan’s sentimental Jesus, Bauer’s non- existent Jesus, Ritschl’s liberal Jesus, and so forth. To paraphrase George Tyrell, each one looked down the long well of history and saw his own face reflected at the bottom“[i]
This is precisely what O’Reilly is doing in his book, which he reveals in his 60 minutes interview. We get this glimpse in the brief interchange with O’Donnell:
Norah O’Donnell: You include two quotes from Jesus on the cross, but not the most famous one: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Why not?
Bill O’Reilly: We don’t put in things that we don’t think happened.
Norah O’Donnell: How do you know?
Bill O’Reilly: Because you couldn’t say something like that, audibly that people would hear. He, you die on a cross from being suffocated. That your lungs can’t take in anymore air. You can hardly breathe. We believe Jesus said that, but we don’t believe he said it on the cross, ’cause nobody could’ve heard it.
Norah O’Donnell: But, Bill, you know what people are going to say. “The Bible says that Jesus said on the cross, ‘Father forgive them,’ but Bill O’Reilly says that’s not true, so I should believe Bill?”
Bill O’Reilly: Well you believe what you want. If you want to take the Bible literally, then that’s your right to do that.
Norah O’Donnell: But you use as your sources for this book the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But you pick and choose.
Bill O’Reilly: Right, but that’s not our only source. I mean, we use Muslim sources, we use Roman sources, we use Jewish sources.
Norah O’Donnell: So is this the Gospel according to Bill?
Bill O’Reilly: This is best available evidence according to Bill. We believe that the oral history in the Bible is largely accurate but we’re not taking it literally.
Hence, O’Reilly commits the fallacy many before him have committed: he has recreated Jesus in his own opinion.
Studying the history of Jesus, ever since Christ walked the earth, people have been misunderstanding and misrepresenting him. Throughout the history of the church up until today, scholars, authors, filmmakers, ministers, theologians, etc. have all been portraying Jesus, claiming to depict the real Jesus, but in the end producing a portrait full of holes.
John 4:24 reads, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth (NIV).” The capacity of the mind is inadequate to surmise the essence of Jesus; where the mind falters, the spirit must take over. Hence, approaching Jesus from a mere rational perspective will produce an incomplete Jesus that is not truly historical.
In O’Reilly’s defense, he comes much closer than many of his predecessors. Rather than making false claims like Jesus was the progenitor of the Merovingian line of France or that Jesus was a political activist, O’Reilly states to O’Donnell that Jesus was: “the most famous human being who ever lived on this planet. And he had no infrastructure. And it’s never been done — ever been done. He had no government, he had no PR guy, he had no money, he had no structure, he had nothing. Yet, he became the most famous human being ever.” In this sense, O’Reilly is much closer to the fact than most.
Bill O’Reilly has already received some 10 million dollars for this book and already makes around 20 million a year. He will give some to charity, which is noble, but would he give all the royalties away? That would demonstrate that indeed, O’Reilly knows Jesus in some real way.
O’Reilly may discover someday that making tens of millions of dollars will still not quench the soul thirst residing in every human’s heart. Maybe someday he will meet the real Jesus like the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4 and receive living water that will quench the soul thirst: “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4: 14).”