I was raised in a time and place where I frequently heard that there never was such a person as Jesus Christ, and that the Bible was just a collection of myths which have been changed many times over the centuries, so that you can’t believe a word it says.
I didn’t realize as I was growing up that we do not live in a world of balance where we can just trust in our “experts”, but the world that passes on the “facts” of human and earth history has its own bias and agenda. We don’t hear about the evidence for the life of Christ because most historians, media people and even some theologians have themselves been misled. They have their own interest in making sure we don’t hear anything about such evidence, unless it’s set it up as a falsehood so that they can then present us with the “facts”. We are all indoctrinated with their biases, and then we are all amused to death so that we don’t even start thinking such thoughts as, “was there really a Jesus Christ?” “Who was he?” “Am I missing something? How can I find out?”
There are not only “experts” who tell us that the Bible is myth, but experts who believe that the life and claims of Jesus Christ and his disciples are supported by evidence. So which “experts” do we believe? It’s my contention that most people will believe the experts they choose to believe, often without taking much notice of the evidence offered on either side. Your choices reflect your heart.
I want to address the question of the reliability of the scriptures in a future series. This series focuses on the person of Jesus Christ. Did he really exist? Who was he, according to what those scriptures say? Was he invented? Was he totally misrepresented in the fourth century or later, as one theory goes?
Gary R. Habermas, with a DD from Oxford and a Ph D from Michigan State University, states in his book “The Historical Jesus”:
“Very few scholars…” (and he is including the unbelieving scholars) ”…hold the view that Jesus never lived”.
He also says:
“There is a substantial body of data that argues for a historical Jesus who lived early in the first century” 1.
Habermas even lists some of the critical scholars of our age who admit to the early first century existence of important Christian creeds. One such creed outlines the original gospel of Jesus Christ, as I noted in my post “What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?”
I’ll have to admit that there are not any surviving photographs of Jesus Christ, or first century newspaper reports of his movements, or coffee tables with his family business logo on, or fish which were caught, stuffed, mounted and autographed by the disciples. You can’t expect a nobody carpenter who was branded a criminal by even the religious leaders of his time and then executed, to have monuments built by the Romans or the Jews in honor of his life. They didn’t even make movies about him.
However, there are certainly some evidences for his life and works.
NON-CHRISTIAN REFERENCES TO JESUS
-In AD 115 Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of the first century, mentioned “Christus” as the ringleader of a sect, who:
“…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius”.
Not a believer himself, Tacitus wrote that there was an “immense multitude of believers willing to die rather than recant their faith” 2.
-Pliny the younger took pleasure in torturing and killing Christians. In AD 111 he wrote that he killed them for “belonging to that degenerate sect”. He also commented that they chanted to Christ “AS IF TO A GOD” 3.
-The Jewish Talmud mentions Christ as a “False Messiah who practiced magic” 4.
-Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, in his “Antiquities”, refers to James “the brother of Jesus, who is called the Christ”.
Josephus’ “Testimonium Flavianum” contains a disputed passage which talks about Jesus and his followers and their martyrdom 5.
-Darrell Bock writes about a piece fo graffiti found in 1857 on some stone on the Palatine Hill of Rome:
“It portrays a man with the head of an ass with hands outstretched on a cross. Another man is said to worship this figure, as the picture has the inscription “Alexamanos, worship God!”…The drawing has been dated to somewhere between the first and third centuries” 6
The Roman historian Seutonius also attests to Rome’s execution of Jesus (7).
EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITINGS
Apart from the Bible, there are thousands of writings by the early “Church Fathers”, dated between AD 90 and 160, containing quoted portions of the New Testament. Of course these speak of Jesus (8). The early church believed the authorship of the gospels and letters, including Papias in 125 AD and Iranaeus in 180 (9).
Of the “Apostolic Fathers”, Ignatios, martyred before AD 117, wrote that Jesus was both God and man (10).
The Bible is a collection of books by many different authors, written over many centuries, who in the Old Testament often prophesied the life and death of the Messiah, and in the New Testament wrote about a man called Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. It doesn’t make sense to dismiss the Bible as no evidence at all: it is in itself a witness by many people of the life of Jesus. It is a collection of documents.
The Old Testament, known to have been written before Christ, contains many prophecies of the Messiah, prophecies which were fulfilled in the life of Christ. For example, the Dead Sea scrolls contain an entire book of Isaiah- a copy made or posessed by the Essenes, a separatist Jewish sect (not Christian), which existed from 300 BC to 68 AD. The Isaiah scroll is virtually identical in content to the book which has been passed down to us through the centuries in the Bible, and which therefore has not been changed or corrupted in over two thousand years (11). Isaiah contains prophecies like this one:
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed….He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers he was silent, so he did not open his mouth…..He was assigned a grave with the wicked…Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him” (Isaiah 53).
In the Jewish scriptures, a man “hanged” as Jesus was on the cross was considered to be cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21: 22-23): hence the phrase “yet we considered him stricken by God”.
Isaiah was prophesying- foretelling- the crucifixion of Christ who would be paying for the sins of his people.
Many books have been written on the evidence within the scriptures for the life and person of Jesus Christ. It is something you could spend your lifetime researching, and still not exhaust the evidence.
There’s no denying that someone, or something, had a profound effect on the world from the first century onwards. Much of the world now shares the view of Adolph Hitler, who stated that the advent of Christianity wreaked terror on the “free” (ha ha) Pagan world that existed before it. See my post on Adolph Hitler for the quote from “Mein Kampf”. Something certainly did happen to “turn the world upside down”. Something happened to make a bunch of nobodies decide to travel the world, risking their lives to tell everyone about this Jesus. They did not advance their cause with violence- this was done later by leaders who borrowed the name of Christ to help cement their power over men and to gain lands and worldly wealth.
We do not find people denying the existence of Mohammed today: why deny the existence of Jesus Christ, who people were prepared to die for? Why would they die for someone that didn’t exist? Bruce M Metzger, a believer in Christ, with Ph Ds from Princeton, St Andrews in Scotland and Munter in Germany, said that no one doubts the existence of Julius Caesar, yet there are far more manuscripts attesting to the life of Jesus than there are manuscripts attesting to the life of Julius Caesar (12).
As I said earlier, there are no coffee tables in museums with “Jesus Christ & Co” printed underneath them, and there are no family portraits in neat frames. The disciples were not dignitaries, but men who were hounded and chased. No-one wished to preserve their names or a record of their actions in the history books: their message was far too unpopular.
However, there is plenty of archeological evidence which supports details and characters in the New Testament books. Here are a few of the many examples that could be given:
-King Herod was spoken of in the gospels (e.g. Matthew chapter 2). His name, “Herod, King of Judea”, was found on the remains of a wine bottle at Masada, a structure built by him. First century Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Herod. Herod’s burial place can be seen at Herodium (13).
-Pontius Pilate as Roman governor (Luke 3:1) presided over the judgment of Jesus Christ and gave him the order to be executed (John chapter 19). At Caesarea’s Roman theatre a stone bearing Pilate’s name was discovered. It is a Latin inscription of four lines, saying: “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea” (14).
-Caiaphas, according to Matthew 26: 57, was the Jewish High Priest who led the efforts to have Christ crucified. His ossuary (burial box) was found, containing his remains, with an inscription, “Caiaphas” and “Joseph, son of Caiaphas” . Josephus mentions him as “Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the High Priesthood” (15).
-John the Baptist, mentioned three times in Matthew’s gospel, created such a stir with Herod and his girlfriend that he lost his head, as recorded in chapter 14. John was spoken of by historian Josephus (16).
1 Gary R Habermas: “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ” (College Press Publishing Company, Joplin Missouri, copyright 1996 by Gary Habermas)
2 “Annals 15.44, in Lee Strobel: “The Case for Christ” (Zondervan, pub. 1998); also Darrell L. Bock “Who Is Jesus? (Howard Books, New YorkNY, copyright 2012 by Darrell Bock)
3 Lee Strobel: “The Case for Christ” (Zondervan, pub. 1998)
6 Darrell L. Bock: “Who Is Jesus? (Howard Books, New YorkNY, copyright 2012 by Darrell Bock) pg 176
7 Ibid, page 22, (taken from “Claudius” 25.4)
8 Bruce Metzger in in Lee Strobel: “The Case for Christ” (Zondervan, pub. 1998)
9 Lee Strobel: “The Case for Christ” (Zondervan, pub. 1998
11 Randall Price: “The Stones Cry Out” (Harvest House Publishers, copyright 1997 by Randall Price)
12 Bruce Metzger in in Lee Strobel: “The Case for Christ” (Zondervan, pub. 1998)
13 Randall Price: “The Stones Cry Out” (Harvest House Publishers, copyright 1997 by Randall Price)
16 “Antiquities” 18.117, as noted in Darrell L. Bock: “Who Is Jesus? (Howard Books, New YorkNY, copyright 2012 by Darrell Bock) pg 30.