RESPONDblogs: A Conclusion on the Historical Jesus

 

historical_jesus

In a previous blog post, I posed the question – Did Jesus exist? Usually, people appeal to the New Testament for their evidence. Yet I also suggested that many people come to the Bible with presuppositions firmly in place. Namely that the Bible is biased and untrustworthy in its portrayal of Jesus and its evidence of him as a real person.

 

I do not believe the Bible misrepresents the person of Jesus or his true identity in any way. But instead of getting side-tracked onto defending the reliability and honour of the Bible, I decided to focus on the original question at hand – Did Jesus exist? And to answer this question, I have set the Bible aside. I have investigated 3 historical sources which are external to the Bible and provide evidence to the historical Jesus.

These sources are written by Roman Historians who were not professing Christians, they did not contribute to the Biblical canon in any way. In fact, their Roman background suggests more likelihood of hostility to the claims of Christianity. Yet as we examined their testimony, we found some particularly interesting facts surrounding the historical background to Jesus of Nazareth.

 

You can find my analysis of the sources here:

 

Suetonius

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/respondblogs-was-jesus-a-real-person/

Tacitus

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/respondblogs-did-jesus-exist-tacitus-thought-so/

Josephus

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/respondblogs-did-jesus-exist/

 

The responses I got from people who read these posts were interesting.

“But these sources only confirm the existence of the Christian Church, not Jesus of Nazareth.”

“But these sources only confirm the existence of an itinerating preacher named Jesus, and nothing else.”

“But these sources are not to be trusted. Someone told them something…and they just wrote it down. It doesn’t mean it’s true.”

 

It turns out that some people don’t just come to the Bible with presuppositions. They also come to the extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus armed with presuppositions too!

 

“But these sources only confirm the existence of the Christian Church, not Jesus of Nazareth.”

Not true at all. A plain reading of each of the sources gives clear evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. The sources talk about the person of Jesus himself.

 

“But these sources only confirm the existence of an itinerating preacher named Jesus, and nothing else.”

Not true at all, they go much much further than that. These sources identify him as a real person, and go on to corroborate details in the Bible’s account of his life.

 

“But these sources are not to be trusted. Someone told them something…and they just wrote it down. It doesn’t mean it’s true.”

So are you saying that we cannot trust what history books say? Why not? What evidence do you have that history books cannot be trusted? Because if you are right  – then we can dismiss a lot of knowledge that we depend on today. History records that World War One started in 1914 and ended in 1918. Even though we were not personally eyewitnesses to it, we know this happened because it is part of our culture’s history. We know that and believe that – right? Well – the same argument applies to Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius. Using the 1st century historical sources at their disposal, at the turn of the 1st century they wrote about events that occurred 60 years earlier. This is how history is recorded, whether it is about World War One, the events surrounding the reign of Roman Emperor Nero or Jesus Christ.

 

So what data do these three non-Christian Roman historians actually give us about the historical Jesus? Here’s a summary:

  1. Christ, or Jesus, was a person who founded a movement called the Christians.
  2. He was the brother of James.
  3. He was called Messiah by some.
  4. He was a wise, virtuous man who was known for his good conduct amongst people.
  5. Perhaps he was the Messiah that the Old Testament Prophets spoke of and predicted.
  6. Jesus Christ was put to death by crucifixion.
  7. The Roman procurator Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus’ crucifixion during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14 to 37 A. D.).
  8. After his crucifixion, Jesus Christ caused his followers in Rome to cause an uproar by sharing his teachings.[1]

 

What information do these three sources give us about the first Christian claims about the person of Jesus Christ?

  1. The followers of Jesus, the Christians, followed him as their teacher.
  2. There were many followers known as Christians who were both Jew and Gentile.
  3. When Christ died, the Christian movement…or the superstition…ended for a short time.
  4. Jesus Christ’s followers reported publically that:
    1. Jesus had been raised from the dead (surely the mischievous teaching that Tacitus and Suetonius make reference to).
    2. Jesus had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion.
  5. The Christ movement broke out again very quickly and they continued to proclaim his teachings.[2]

 

 

When you remember Jesus Christ’s social status during his life (he was essentially a peasant)…it is truly striking that so much detail exists on him in Roman Historical works. There is more written about political leaders like Caesar, Nero and Cicero; Jesus Christ was a no-one by comparison. Yet in spite of his obscurity, “if you limit yourself just to people at Jesus’ socio economic status … lower class peasant … there isn’t anyone from the ancient world that comes close to the amount of evidence we have for Jesus.”[3] And I have only just touched on some of the evidence available for Jesus. There is so much more.

 

Further, scholars we would not call themselves Christians look at this data and are under no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth existed, that he was a real person.

 

“John Dominic Crossan: ‘That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.’”[4]

“Crossan: ‘I take it absolutely for granted that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Security about the fact of the Crucifixion derives not only from the unlikelyhood tat Christians would have invented it but also from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it, a Jewish one from 93-94 C.E. and a Roman one from the 110s or 120s C.E.’”[5]

“Gerd Ludemann: ‘It is certain that Jesus was crucified around the year 30.’”[6]

“Ludemann: ‘The fact of Jesus death as the consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.’”[7]

 

Did Jesus of Nazareth exist? Human history says yes.

 

On a personal note – I am pleased that historians took time to record these details. But in my experience, I know more about Jesus through personal experience than ancient history. Jesus is the most exquisite, heart changing, life transforming person you will ever meet. You see…he is not primarily someone you meet in the pages of history. He is someone you encounter in your life today; he is not dead, he is risen and alive today. He is not just a person from the past, he is the living Lord who is not distant but right now is longing to walk beside us each day of our lives.

 

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV

 

 

 

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ Select chapters by Gary R. Habermas,” Dr. Gary R. Habermas Online Resources, Information, Media, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bart Ehrman and Justin Brierly, “Did Jesus Exist?,” Unbelievable Podcast Saturday 18th August 2012, accessed January 31st, 2015, http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Did-Jesus-Exist-Bart-Ehrman-Q-A-Unbelievable.

[4] Clay Jones, “Jesus Wasn’t a Real Person? That’s Dumb!”, Clay Jones, accessed March 25th, 2015, http://www.clayjones.net/2010/08/jesus-wasnt-a-real-person-thats-dumb/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Advertisements

Published by

stuartgrayuk

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

3 thoughts on “RESPONDblogs: A Conclusion on the Historical Jesus”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s