Posts Tagged ‘history’

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One of the first things you must understand when researching anything from historical documents as old as the Bible is that there are cultural and linguistic differences that may need to be accounted for.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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In our fast-paced society today people fill their lives with things to make life more convenient. Americans have created a drive-through for food, banking, medication, coffee, and even grocery shopping. Unfortunately, this “I want it now” attitude has lead people to look for  “McAnswers,” those quick-convenient answers that can be found by searching Google, polling the internet, asking a friend, or reading a few sentences. Oddly enough, people do this with the most important aspect of their lives, their belief systems. Americans frequently base their opinions and “knowledge” on the information at their fingertips rather than investigating the linguistic and cultural context of the passages they found their beliefs on–we have become so closed-minded a culture that some even refuse to do their own research, claiming that there are many paths to choose from, or that we can never truly know what is right.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary there are two definitions for the word context; the term may be used to describe to the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning. Context may also refer to the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs, such as the environment or setting (ex: historical or cultural context). It seems often today, particularly in Biblical interpretation that passages are taken out of context in both ways.

One of the more common misinterpretations of context occur when a person reads an isolated verse (or two) in the Bible and neglects to read the verses preceding and following their selection. I’ve seen this in multiple hot-button issues, but a simple example is when people wear what I call the “If-then blinders.” This simply refers to passages in the Bible that give an if statement: “If you do this…” which is then followed by the consequences of that “if”: “then you…” A frequent occurrence of this troublesome blindness occurs when someone memorizes a verse and either forgets the rest of it, or neglects to memorize the preceding portion. A common example is the phrase, “The truth will set you free.” Did you know that there is more to this verse? The full verse from John 8:31-32 reads: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” The qualifying statement that allows the truth to set a person free is to know it. In order to know this truth you must hold to Jesus’ teachings. Ergo, IF you hold to Jesus’ teachings à THEN you are really his disciples. IF you are really Jesus’ disciples THEN you will know the truth and THEN it will set you free.

Another common mistake that Americans today make is to view Biblical and historical passages through modern glasses. The Bible was not written in English, it was not written today, and was not written by a single person. To understand the context of a chapter of scripture (or any historical writing) one must first understand the linguistic connotations. Hebrew is a very rich language, and often a word may have more than one direct meaning; a word may denote one thing by connote another thing in addition to the English translation. When the Bible says in Isaiah that “all our righteous acts are like filthy ragsthe word filthy literally refers to a garment stained from a woman’s menstrual cycle. This brings me to a second key to interpretation, historical context. While the translation of the word filthy is gross to us today, in Biblical times it would have had a far greater impact. In the book of Leviticus we see that a woman would be considered “unclean” for a week during her period, along with anything she sits on or anyone who touches her during this time. To be unclean, depending upon the context, would require a person to avoid contact if they were unclean, vessels to be burned, meat to be discarded, etc. Seeing the linguistic and historical context of this verse gives new meaning to “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

One other aspect of interpretation is the person who is speaking, who they are, and when they were writing. We must discover whether the speaker is writing during the time the events occurred, long after that time, or if they are hearing the information second-hand. It is also important to know a little about the person who is telling the story. For example, Luke was a doctor while Matthew was a tax collector; both would view the events of Jesus’ life through their own personal experiences and would notate things that they saw in light of what they found important. Luke may be detailed in some descriptions, while Matthew may have a propensity for including numeric values of things.

I hope and pray that you will continue to seek out the true meanings behind common verses and catchphrases so that your faith may be made firm, secure in the knowledge that you have researched so that you may “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Do not fall into the trap of saying that there are “many ways” or that we cannot ever know the correct way. There are many interpretations, this is true; however, one may be sure to find the correct answer by accurately studying the contexts of a passage and finding all the information before making a judgment call on something—you cannot hold a belief and be firm in it if you do not understand why you believe it. Think about it.

2 Timothy 2:15-26 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”

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