RESPONDblogs: Did Jesus Exist?

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Jesus.

 

There have been many canvases painted, books written, stained glass windows mounted and movies made about him. There are many different opinions today on who he was and what he actually said. But he lived such a long time ago; isn’t it possible he has been made up? Perhaps Jesus is just a mythical talisman people use to salve their fears, legitimize their ministries, justify their philosophies and excuse their behaviour. Is Jesus a myth?

 

No – I’m going to do a series of posts where I will outline my reasons for asserting the historicity of Jesus, and I will base this position on historical sources external to the New Testament.

Why?

Because so many people come to the Bible with a pre-conceived notion that it must be biased in its portrayal of Jesus. But what if extra-Biblical historical sources, from people with no pro-Christian theological bias…and sometimes some anti-Christian bias… did refer to the person of Jesus? And what if they also corroborated many many details that we read about Jesus in the New Testament Gospels? Would you be interested?

 

These sources fall into three categories, “(1) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), (2) Jewish and (3) Christian.”[1] I will focus on the first two.

 

The first Greco-Roman source is Gaius Suetonius, the Roman writer, lawyer and historian. He was chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian, and he wrote a history called On the Lives of the Caesars. His historical accounts were written with the aid of this Roman government documentation. Reporting on events in 49 C.E. he says,

“He [Emperor Claudius] banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.”[2]

(The translator of Suetonius’s account notes that “Chrestus” is a variant spelling of “Christ”.)

A second related comment from Suetonius states that,

“After the great fire at Rome … Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”[3]

 

Taken together, these records from Suetonius tell us some important details:

1 – Jews were expelled from Rome

2 – it was Christ who caused these Jews to make a disturbance…leading to their expulsion

3 – these Jews had a belief that was described as mischievous by Suetonius, and also described the same way by Tacitus (as we will see later)

4 – the term “Christians” was coined to describe this Jewish group who followed the teachings of Christ

 

Sceptic Richard Carrier denies the historical Jesus completely; he has decided that Jesus is a mythical and fictional invention. Richard says of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome that, “This incident was more likely city-wide violence ginned up by a Jewish [rabble rouser] named Chrestus.”[4] But Richard has problems with this:

  • He cannot produce any evidence of this supposed rabble rouser.
  • there is no evidence of any Jew being given that name; “among hundreds of Jewish names in the catacombs of Rome, there is not one instance of Chrestus being the name of a Jew”[5].

It is much more likely that Suetonius is not mentioning a person named Chretus; rather he is repeating an error in his source. He is referring to Jesus (passing on the assumption that his name was Christ), but misunderstood him to be an “agitator who lived in Rome in 49 C.E.”[6]

 

Richard Carrier continues; “it cannot plausibly be argued that [Suetonius] meant Jesus, who was neither alive nor in Rome at any time under Claudius.”[7] Carrier is pointing out that, because these Roman disturbances are dated to between 41 and 54 A.D. when Claudius was emperor, there is clearly a time discrepancy. Jesus was crucified years earlier; how can he provoke disturbances if he is already dead?

Yet Carrier is forgetting that the early Christian Church clearly declared Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. Surely Suetonius was only reporting clearly what was occurring during Claudius’s reign; namely that the Jewish Christian disturbances were claimed to be instigated by the resurrected Jesus. It is likely that these disturbances were, “sparked by disagreement about who Jesus was and/or what he said and did.”[8]

 

Richard Carrier also denies that the Suetonius quote corroborates anything written in the New Testament[9], but actually the opposite is true. Suetonius second quote describing the aftermath of the fires in Rome corroborates a small detail mentioned in Acts chapter 18 that affects the friends of Jesus; namely that, “Paul met a Jewish couple from Pontus … who had recently left Italy because Claudius had demanded that all Jews leave Rome.”[10]

 

Given the well documented Christian Resurrection preaching and the corroboration of a Christian expulsion from Rome, it would seem reasonable to agree with the majority scholarly opinion that Suetonius mentions the person of the historical Jesus, not a lost Jewish rabble rouser named Chrestus.

Did Jesus exist? Suetonius certainly thought so. Next up – TACITUS

  [1] Lawrence Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist? Search for Evidence Beyond the Bible”, Bible History Daily, accessed March 12th, 2015, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/.

[2] 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.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Richard Carrier, HITLER HOMER BIBLE CHRIST The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013, (Philosophy Press 2014), 377.

[5] Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist?”.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Carrier, HITLER HOMER, 377.

[8] Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist?”.

[9] Carrier, HITLER HOMER, 376.

[10] Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence”.

RESPONDblogs: Free Resources for Responding to Christian Skeptics

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Hey there – here are some free resources to help you as you make a case for Christian faith and belief. And if you are not yet personally convinced yourself about the claims of Christ – these free resources might help you.

 

I’m a big fan of David Robertson’s book “The Dawkins Letters” – much recommended! C S Lewis’s important work, “The Abolition of Man”, is also there – it’s quite tough going in places and so I’ve included a brilliant video commentary on the book that helped me get his more subtle points.

 

I have personally checked each and every one of these links – so they are correct at time of posting. Apologies if one doesn’t work for you. Try googling the book if you run into trouble? And please let me know of any problems and I’ll update the link.

 

There are a mix of downloadable PDF’s (indicated in brackets) and web published book versions here.

 

There is no intentional copyright infringement going on here – these books have been made available online for free use. This list was first compiled by https://chab123.wordpress.com

 

Enjoy!

 

Stuart

 

The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson

 

The Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi

This webpage took a minute or so to load for me – but it looks like a fun resource.

 

The Abolition of Man by C S Lewis [PDF]

I can also recommend the following commentary on “The Abolition of Man” by Benjamin McLean…it helped me grasp Lewis’s more subtle points.

The Abolition of Man Simplified, part 1

The Abolition of Man Simplified, part 2

 

Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock: What to Say Jehovah Witnesses When They Knock on your Door by Mike Licona

 

Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock: What to Say to Mormons When They Knock on Your Door by Mike Licona

 

Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity by Josh McDowell and Bart Larson [PDF]

 

He Walked Among Us: Evidence for the Historical Jesus by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson [PDF]

 

Josh McDowell answers Five Tough Questions by Josh McDowell [PDF]

 

He Walked Among Us: Evidence for the Historical Jesus by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson [PDF]

 

Fifty Nobel Laureates and Other Great Scientists Who Believe in God [PDF]

 

The Future of Justification by John Piper [PDF]

 

How Do You Know the Bible is from God? by Kyle Butt [PDF]

 

Runaway World by Michael Green

 

Skeptics should Consider Christianity by Josh McDowell and Don Steward [PDF]

 

Skeptics who Demanded a Verdict by Josh McDowell [PDF]

 

Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity  edited by John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth [PDF]

 

Confessions by St. Augustine [PDF]

 

Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching by St. Irenaeus

 

Jesus Rediscovered by Malcolm Muggeridge

 

St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen by W.M. Ramsey

 

Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible is the Word of God by R.A. Torrey

 

The Case for the Existence of God by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. [PDF]

 

The Islam Debate by Josh McDowell and John Gilchrist [PDF]

 

The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World General Editors- John Piper and Justin Taylor [PDF]

 

The Story of the Bible by Sir Frederic Kenyon

 

The Works of Flavius Josephus

 

Dealing with Doubt by Dr. Gary Habermas

 

Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? by W.M. Ramsey

 

Warranted Christian Belief by Dr. Alvin Plantinga

 

Man-The Dwelling Place of God by A.W. Tozer

 

The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds

 

The Normal Christian Life by Watchmen Nee

 

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

 

The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God by Dr. Gary Habermas

 

In Six Days– Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, Edited by Dr. John Ashton

 

Natural Theology by William Paley

 

Refuting Evolution 1 by Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D., F.M.

 

Refuting Evolution 2 by Jonathan Sarfati, with Michael Matthews

 

Taking Back Astronomy by Jason Lisle

 

The Creation Answers Book by Dr. Don Batton (Contributing Editor), Dr. David Catchpoole, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, and Dr. Carl Wieland

 

The Global Flood of Noah by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. [PDF]

 

The Mystery of Life’s Origin by Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen [PDF or Adobe Reader]

 

In the Shadow of Darwin, a review of the teachings of John N. Clayton by Wayne Jackson and Bert Thompson [PDF]

 

Logic and Fallacies of Logic by Dr. Johnson C. Philip and Dr. Saneesh Cherian [PDF]

 

A Treatise on Human Nature by David Hume

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

 

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

 

Me, the Professor, Fuzzy, and the Meaning of Life by David Pensgard

 

Heretics by G.K. Chesterton

 

Philosophical Fragments by Soren Kierkegaard

 

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

 

The Predicament of Modern Man by Elton Trueblood

 

The Sickness Unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard

 

What’s Wrong with the World? by G.K. Chesterton