I remember having a conversation with someone who was attempting to discredit Christianity based on what he perceived as the “intellectual backwardness of the ancient people”. In other words his argument to me was, those people were pretty uneducated and dumb back then. They didn’t have science like us. Of course they would swallow the Jesus story about his virgin birth and his resurrection from the dead!
I remember at the time being staggered by his argument.
Logically, the reason that a virgin birth caused such a stir amongst Jesus contemporaries was precisely because people knew “the birds and the bees” very well indeed! That conception is impossible without intercourse. Similarly, people did not rise from the dead. When someone died – that was it. Game over. Where today our medical advances can sometimes prolong life, and the average age in the West is growing longer…the ancient realities of life and death were well understood in first century Israel. Dead people stayed that way.
Further, the Bible records that people at the time of the birth of Christianity were very skeptical of the claims of the first Christians. Jesus birth was a scandal, and his parents were stigmatized for the precise reason that no one believed their story. They didn’t believe that Mary was pregnant because of God’s miraculous activity – instead they suspected that Joseph and Mary got “caught short” because they couldn’t wait before they were married.
Similarly – dead Messiah’s don’t rise from the dead. Jerusalem had a slew of Messiah wannabes at that time. Men who gathered a following around them. Yet they eventually died. And so when the reports of Jesus resurrection began to excite and perplex the Jewish population in Jerusalem, there was much skepticism in the air. In fact we read the oldest skeptical response to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead in the Gospels themselves. “The disciples stole the body.”
You might think people are skeptical about the claims of Christianity today. Well – the situation wasn’t too different back then either.
And what about the arrogant claim that the ancient people were ignorant? Well – Christianity arose in the Roman Empire. Anyone who has studied Roman history knows that this was one of the most advanced civilizations in human history. The city where I live is built on Roman design and foundation. The road my housing estate sits on – is itself originally a Roman road. They were technologically advanced – and we still benefit from their work today. Christianity took hold in the advanced Roman Empire.
But someone may complain – they didn’t have the Scientific advances we have. iPhone’s that give us instant communication, the Hubble Telescope that lets us see deeper into the Universe than mankind ever thought possible. Yes – that’s all true. Yet at the same time – first century people weren’t glued to their iPhones like so many people are today. They had a better relationship with the world around them – because they engaged within it. Nature was a source of inspiration, and the place where advances were made in these people’s lives. Further – they were so much further on when it came to philosophy and the nature of religious inquiry. They thought deeper, they engaged more vigorously within nature because they didn’t have the technological distractions we have today. And as far as the night sky was concerned – they could see it laid out before their eyes every night in all its vastness. While for us the light pollution from cities distorts our view of the Universe, they were not hindered in this way. And if you have ever visited Africa and gazed into the night sky you will know what I mean.
The ancients were more clued into the nature of life and death and our place in nature. The Christian faith took hold in the most sophisticated human civilization to date.
You know it strikes me that if we are tempted to look back at these ancient people scornfully – we don’t get what they were about at all. Perhaps we are really only seeing our own ignorance being reflected back at us.