“Back to Christ”?

Back to Christ?.001The devil is deceptive. He is the father of lies (John 8:44) and endorses “lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Jesus portrays folks who teach false ideas as wearing sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), so it should not surprise us when we find people using language that sounds good on the surface, but really promotes a false idea. Paul warned the church about this issue: “[F]ierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).

Here is a contemporary example: When someone advocates that we “Go back to Christ!,” we must take care to know exactly what is being advocated. He may mean that Christ’s authority, rather than the authority of mere human tradition, must dictate what we believe and do.

On the other hand, the appeal to go back to Christ may be a backhanded way of dismissing the apostles’ authority and much of the doctrine that Jesus Himself taught. The latter meaning is exemplified by those who work on the Jesus Seminar, an assembly of Bible scholars who, in the late 20th century, attempted to discern which of the words of the Scriptural text attributed to Jesus represent words that Jesus actually spoke (or almost certainly spoke).1  The Seminar used faulty criteria to conclude that only about 18% of what is attributed to Jesus is authentic, and the rest is not. They used different colored beads to indicate their opinions of the likelihood that Jesus actually spoke whatever phrase was under their consideration. (A black bead indicated that Jesus did not say it.) In this case the call that we go back to Christ means, ironically, we cannot trust the Bible that tells us of the Christ.

It is interesting that our brother, the Bible scholar J.W. McGarvey was already concerned about this kind of thinking in 1896, when he wrote an article for The Christian Standard titled, “The Cry, ‘Back to Christ.’” In it, Dr. McGarvey wrote that in contemporary textual criticism,

[the cry “Back to Christ”] means, also, back of the apostles, so that their teaching is to be set aside when it does not seem to be supported by the personal teaching of Jesus. Neither does it stop at the four Gospels and their representation of what Christ taught. It discriminates between what they have incorrectly reported from the lips of Christ and what he actually said. By powers of discernment which none but an expert modern critic boasts of possessing, all of the reported sayings of Christ are sifted, the accretions and misconstructions of the Gospel writers, and the traditions which they followed, are cast aside, and the residue is the teaching of Christ. The cry is, back to that; and back to that is infidelity and religious anarchy. . . .

If we once cast aside the inspiration which Christ promised his apostles, if he did promise it, if those promises of it are not spurious additions to his words, and if we also cast aside their claim of an infallible inspiration, as has now become the fashion, what have we left to guarantee the certainty that anything quoted from him in the Gospels actually came from his lips? Nothing, absolutely nothing, except the judgment of the modern critic, and that, in such a connection, is not worth the snap of my finger.2


  1. See Brad Bromling, “A Look at the Jesus Seminar,” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=589

  2. Short Essays in Biblical Criticism (Cincinnati, OH: The Standard), 148-149. 

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- 2017