Apologetics · Bible · History · Jesus · Salvation

The Historical Jesus

It is sometimes difficult to have patience with the modern skeptic who has not taken the time to seriously consider the evidence for Christianity. Many skeptics have never bothered to read the Bible. They simply attack Christ and His followers as simpletons, with the air of arrogance reserved for those intellectually superior to all others. These religious skeptics dare to stand in moral judgment on the God of the universe, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. How foolish they are, for their morality is a borrowed morality. Where did they get a sense of right and wrong if not from the Judeo-Christian faith?

With a desire to be kind, and give an answer to an honest skeptic, let the record show that Jesus Christ is a historical figure who is worthy of being loved and honored. He is the Son of the living God. He is the Saviour of the world.

The four gospels tell the life of Christ, and so the Bible must be read. Initially, the Bible can be read as a historical book. It may or may not be correct, in the mind of the skeptic, but it is a historical document worthy of examining, which Higher Criticism has done. Respected historian Will Durant, who was not a Christian, comments on the work of the Higher Critics.

“In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies- e.g., Hammurabi, David, Socrates- would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed- the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.”

As a scholarly historian Will Durant asked a legitimate question, a question on the minds of many.

Early Non-Christian Evidence

What evidence is there for Christ’s existence? The earliest non-Christian reference occurs in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (A.D. 93?): At that time lived Jesus, a holy man, if man he may be called, for he performed wonderful works, and taught men, and joyfully received the truth. And he was followed by many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Messiah.

Early Pagan Evidence

The oldest known mention of Christ in pagan literature is in a letter of the younger Pliny (ca. 110), asking the advice of Trajan on the treatment of Christians. Five years later Tacitus described Nero’s persecution of the Chrestiani in Rome, and pictured them as already (A.D. 64) numbering adherents throughout the Empire; the paragraph is so Tacitean in style, force, and prejudice that of all Biblical critics only Drews questions its authenticity.

Suetonius (ca. 125) mentions the same persecution, and reports Claudius’ banishment (ca. 52) of “Jews who, stirred up by Christ [impulsore Chresto], were causing public disturbances,” the passage accords well with the Acts of the Apostles, which mentions a decree of Claudius that “the Jews should leave Rome.”

These references prove the existence of Christians rather than of Christ; but unless we assume the latter, we are driven to the improbable hypothesis that Jesus was invented in one generation; moreover, we must suppose that the Christian community in Rome had been established some years before 52, to merit the attention of an imperial decree.

About the middle of this first century, a pagan named Thallus, in a fragment preserved by Julius Africanus, argued that the abnormal darkness alleged to have accompanied the death of Christ was a purely natural phenomenon and coincidence; the argument took the existence of Christ for granted. The denial of that existence seems never to have occurred, even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity.

Early Christian Evidence

The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint Paul. Some of these are of uncertain authorship; several, antedating A.D. 64, are almost universally accounted as substantially genuine. No one has questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter, James, and John; and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ in the flesh. The accepted epistles frequently refer to the Last Supper and the crucifixion (Will Durant, Jesus: 4 B.C., – A. D. 30, Chapter XXVI from the third volume of the Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ).

Because Jesus is a historical figure, because Christ rose from the dead, because Christianity is built on a historical fact, the fact of the resurrection, because Jesus is the only Saviour, believe on Him. Place your faith and trust in Jesus. Ask God to forgive you of your sins and save you from skepticism, and worse, eternal separation from God.

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