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Archive for June 14th, 2017

Whether or not you believe Jesus Christ was who he said he was, you cannot deny the fact that he was. Without going into C.S. Lewis’ “liar, lunatic, or Lord” illustration, the one thing that you cannot deny is that there is evidence that a man named Jesus lived and existed around the time that modern Christians believe he did, that he was killed by crucifixion, and had followers. While a person can claim that there isn’t evidence for the existence of something (though in the case of Jesus there is definitely evidence) you cannot claim that something did not exist with any certainty.

One of the first things you must understand when researching anything from historical documents as old as the Bible is that there are cultural and linguistic differences that may need to be accounted for. I will attempt to explain those where necessary, and provide further links to the information.

The Census

The argument I saw most recently against the existence of Jesus was “there is no record of a census being taken around Jesus’ birth!”. This article gives a detailed answer, but the short answer is: Yes, there was a census. It appears that there were likely multiple censuses (censi?) that were taken throughout the land at varying times. There are papyrus scrolls referencing a Roman census taken in Egypt also. Another part of the complaint of these “history deniers” is the existence of a particular governor, Quirinus. The objection seems to have to do with the timing of when he served as governor, but some evidence shows that the man may have served twice, allowing for him to fit into the timeline in accordance with Luke’s detailed account. Some have suggested that Luke was attempting to make a distinction between the census we know Quirinius took in AD 6 from the census that Mary and Joseph were participating in. (Read the article for more detail).

Accuracy of Names, Titles, Locations

Next, a look to the validity of the timing of the scriptures. Gallio (proconsul of Achaea, Acts 18:12-17) and Lysanias (tetrarch of Abilene, Luke 3) are both mentioned and their timing questioned, that is until inscriptions were found at Delphi and Abilene (respectively) that tie them together.

In Acts 19:22, Erastus is named as a Corinthian who becomes a coworker of Paul. When Corinth was excavated, an inscription was found near the theatre and read “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid the pavement at his own expense.” They could easily be the same man, and it would explain why a wealthy citizen who converted was mentioned. Luke also gives the correct titles for several other officials.

Confirmation by Secular Historians

The next argument presented is that there were no “contemporary sources” that confirmed the existence of Jesus, which is flat out false.

The Gospel accounts were written within 40 years of Jesus’ death by eyewitnesses and by people who knew the eyewitnesses. Paul, for example, records meeting Peter (the disciple) in the book of Galatians. He also was known as a persecutor of the Jews; why would he need to persecute people who followed someone who did not exist? More importantly, if Jesus’ resurrection was made up, why would people willingly die for something they knew to be a lie? Since the accounts of the eyewitnesses (and others) are demonstrably historically accurate, and the mention of individuals correct, we have little reason to doubt the existence of Jesus. (Look here for links and info on historians — most of whom reject the theory that Jesus was a myth.)

Tacitus was a Roman historian (AD 55-120). He made at least three references to Christ. In the first he explains how Nero blamed the Christians for the fire that burned Rome:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reighn of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. […] Covered with the skins of beasts, they were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illimation, when daylight had expired. (Ibid, p. 51)

Note that it mentions Christians (why would they exist if not for Christ?), references the basic points of Christ’s death, and the superstition Tacitus mentions is likely to be that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead.

Christ is also mentioned by a Roman Satirist named Lucian, the chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian who was called Suetonius, and a Jewish historian named Josephus. All of these historians present the death of Christ and the belief that he rose from the dead as a belief followed by Christians, nothing more or less. They do not attempt to refute it — after all, if a body had been found, would it not be mentioned? (They also do not state that the man did not exist or that his followers did not.) Particularly since the Christian believers were such a large number that they were mentioned by historians, satirists, and secretaries — it is likely that the refutation of the belief that had caused such difficulty for the Romans would have been proclaimed loudly.

Though the Gnostic gospels are not books that should be relied upon as accurate sources of information about Jesus’, his life, or his theology, they do help us to understand history in light of the Gospels. These Gnostic gospels were written primarily by men who pretended to be biblical apostles, and they agree that Jesus existed, though they felt the need to build and modify the story to suit their needs (indicating that He wasn’t simply a myth they could ignore).

In addition to the written evidence, there are inscriptions after the time of Jesus resurrection declaring unusually harsh punishments for disturbing graves. It is suggested that this may have been in response to the claim of Jesus’ resurrection. The method of Christ’s death is also verified by ancient burial sites in Jerusalem where the bodies of crucified men were found and the injuries consistent with the description found in the Gospels.

Massacre of the Innocents

It seems that this is one event that there is limited evidence for (though that, in itself, does not prove the non-existence of Jesus or that the Gospels were faked). Josephus mentions other atrocities of Herod, particularly his violent ones, but not this one. Some have argued that the murder of his two sons may have set such fear in the people that they believed he would kill their children as well. Others believe that a decree was issued, but then retracted and never carried out. Historian Raymond Brown (and others) argue that, based on Bethlehem’s estimated population of 1,000 at the time, the largest number of infants that could have been killed would have been about twenty,[15][16] and R. T. France, addressing the story’s absence in Antiquities of the Jews, argues that “the murder of a few infants in a small village [is] not on a scale to match the more spectacular assassinations recorded by Josephus”.[17] Here is another article referencing the possibility of this event. Let it be known that the absence of one (potentially small, comparatively) event, does not disprove the entirety of Christ’s existence.

Note: Much of the information used here was taken from Norman Geisler’s book When Skeptics Ask. It is an excellent source of answers to questions that people often have, and provides many footnotes and references to support the answers given. (Chapter 9 alone has 22 footnotes!) Please check this book out from your library or order on Amazon.

 

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