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Current debate

The signatories, lecturers at the Theological School of the GKSA in Potchefstroom and the Faculty of Theology of the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, comment as follows on the current "debate on Jesus" in the public press. The debate is mainly concerned with the significance of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth — who He is and what He had done, especially the significance of his crucifixion and resurrection. This discussion has largely been prompted by the study results of the Jesus Seminar, the value to be attached to the Gospel of Thomas and the call for a New Reformation. According to the New Reformation, we have to change our thoughts about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Church and the Christian faith.

The value of scientific theological research

We wish to state at the outset that we welcome serious and honest scientific theological research and are ourselves engaged in it. However, such research has to fulfil the basic requirements for authentic scientific research and focus on the building up of the Christian faith, the growth of the church and the advent of the kingdom of God. The Reformed Christian tradition puts a high premium on the value of intensive and painstaking study of the Bible and we wish to continue in that vein.

The Bible as a normative text

We believe that the current debate is dominated by specific presuppositions. If the Bible, specifically Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is regarded as ordinary text in line with other nonbiblical texts, such an approach would inevitably yield study results and conclusions different from ours. This is precisely what would happen if one attaches the same value to the Gospel according to Mark and the so-called Gospel of Thomas.

As far as the Gospel of Thomas is concerned, we endorse on scientific grounds the findings of many researchers that this document, discovered at Nag Hamadi in Egypt as late as 1945, is not in actual fact a Gospel but a haphazard collection of "pronouncements by Jesus". They were probably collected in the second century AD from earlier oral transmission and mixed with concepts of Christian gnostic heresy. Research shows that the Gospel of Thomas was used by the Manichees, but that the Christian Church had rejected it from the outset as an apocryphal heretical document. Neither history nor the contents of the document provide grounds for regarding this Gospel as authoritative or equivalent to Biblical writings.

We accept the Old and New Testament as a normative, authoritative and authentic text, not so much because of their age or decisions by the church about them, but because of their revelationary content and because the Holy Spirit convinces us of their authority. We furthermore acknowledge that God’s final and supreme revelation is manifested in Jesus Christ and that it is impossible to correctly understand the Bible as a whole outside Him.

We confirm that the Bible was written in specific historical contexts and that we therefore have to apply it in new contexts. We have not received the Word of God in any form other than in the words of humans, but the authors had written down God’s revelation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are convinced that Scripture itself is the primary source from which to explain its contents, but that there are other sources as well which can provide valuable insight into certain sections. We are deeply aware that our acceptance of the Bible as a normative text on the grounds of faith is no automatic assurance for the correct interpretation of it nor against ideological abuse of the Bible. It is precisely this danger which highlights the value of continuous and intensive research into the Bible.

Significance of the person and work of Jesus Christ

In the light of the authoritative testimony of Scripture, the person and work of Jesus Christ should be regarded as having fundamental significance for the Christian faith.

Jesus Christ is the image of God, and God lives in Jesus with his whole being. God has intervened through Jesus to save and heal and is continuing his work of healing the world from sin and need. In Jesus, God has vanquished the evil powers of this world — the powers of sin, demons and death. He has redeemed people and made them his children, reconciled them with Him, restored their broken relationship with Him and thus endowed them with his grace and granted them forgiveness of their sins.

In this redeeming act of God, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are pivotal. Our Lord Jesus Christ "was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification". According to Scripture, Christ had died for our sins and was resurrected from death as the conqueror.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is a historical event with the significance of granting us redemption. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the ransom for many. His sacrifice on the Cross brings reconciliation, righteousness, redemption and forgiveness of sin. His death washes away our sins and makes us pure.

With regard to the resurrection of Jesus Christ we testify, together with the apostles, that he has been bodily resurrected from the dead/has risen from death and that He is now the living God who rules over everything until his kingdom is complete and the new heaven and earth have dawned. If Christ had not been resurrected our faith is worthless and we are still imprisoned in our sins. "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." In the light of the scriptural revelation we are convinced that there is life after our earthly death. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ lives, even though he or she has died. Our earthly death is merely a passage to eternal life.

When the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is reinterpreted so as to nullify their historical reality, the very essence of the Christian faith is attacked. Without them there is no good news for mankind .

Critical questions about the Jesus Seminar

The procedures, methods and findings of the Jesus Seminar are problematic. The study results of this seminar depict a sharply reduced Jesus figure and create the impression that the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) do not faithfully portray who Jesus actually was and is. On the basis of the Gospel of Thomas in particular, they regard Jesus as a mere prophet and a teacher of wisdom, without attaching any significance of redemption to his crucifixion and his bodily resurrection (which they query). In this sense, the Gospel of free grace loses its special significance since it is reduced to a Jesus ethics.

Supporters of the Jesus Seminar regard the books of the New Testament as nothing more that the products of the early Christian communities who designated the historical Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God because of personal religious motives. However, the books of the New Testament do not originate from people but have been inspired by God. As God reveals in these books, it is a historical fact that He had sent his Son into this world; in other words, the historical Jesus is in fact the Christ of God. This is borne out by the historical resurrection of Jesus.

The call for ongoing reformation

A proper understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ can have an invigorating effect on church and society. While we are mourning the frequent abuse of the gospel of Christ, in our own history as well, we trust that the spirit of Christ will lead his church in future to the recognition of God’s kingship, also in South Africa. We firmly believe that true reformation implies a constant return to the Word of God and, thus, to God himself. This is in direct contrast to the so-called New Reformation which is essentially a plea for a movement away from the Bible and God as He reveals himself in the Bible.

We pray that churches will never regard the task of the reformation of the church as complete. We also pray that Christians in South Africa will express their faith in Christ in a more concrete and confident way, and thus contribute to a society which manifests the kingship of God and is characterised by freedom, peace, joy and justice.

Signed by:

Prof BJ de Klerk

Prof F Denkema

Prof A le R du Plooy

Prof JJ J van Rensburg

Prof GJC Jordaan

Prof PP Krüger

Prof HF van Rooy

Prof JH van Wyk

Prof CJH Venter

Prof FP Viljoen

Prof JM Vorster

Mnr E Baloyi

Ds R Letsosa

Ds D Mashau

Prof GA Lotter


Hierdie is die webblad van Dr Hennie van Wyk. Standpunte op hierdie blad is sy eie of die van outeurs wie se werk geplaas word, in watter geval die standpunte die van die genoemde outeur is.