Friday, 11 May 2018

How did the Appostles die?

As French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” With the exception of John, every one of the apostles died horribly violent deaths. Yet they did this without ever denouncing their faith.  Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby.

So how did the disciples die?

Let’s take the brothers first. Simon AKA Peter and his older brother Andrew. Both were crucified as old men. Peter was the first pope, Christ’s Vicar, the head of the visible Church. Andrew, before he met Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew was there when John pointed at Jesus on the banks of the River Jordan and said: “Behold the Lamb of God!” Andrew followed Christ after His holy baptism and innocently asked Him where He lived. Jesus innocently answered: “Come and see”. Andrew preached the Faith in Asia Minor (Turkey) and in Scythia, east of Turkey (north of Iran). went to Patras in western Greece in 69 AD, where the Roman proconsul Aegeates debated religion with him. Aegeates tried to convince Andrew to forsake Christianity, so that he would not have to torture and execute him. But when that didn’t work, apparently he decided to give Andrew the full treatment. Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby. 

Peter was martyred under the Nero persecution in the year 67. Peter, too, was, as His Master, crucified by nails on Vatican hill. As the story goes, Peter asked to be crucified upside down, so that his death would not be the equal of Jesus and the Romans obliged.

Paul, the Apostle, was beheaded outside the walls of Rome on the same day as Peter.

James the Greater and his brother, John, “Sons of Thunder”. James was the first Apostle to be martyred. He was a victim of Herod Agrippa who seized him when he was in Jerusalem in the year 42 and had him beheaded. Acts 12:1-19 says that James was killed with a sword. The newly-appointed governor of Judea, Herod Agrippa, decided to ingratiate himself with the Romans by persecuting leaders of the new sect. After James was arrested and led to place of execution, his unnamed accuser was moved by his courage. He not only repented and converted on the spot, but asked to be executed alongside James. The Roman executioners obliged, and both men were beheaded simultaneously.

John, the youngest Apostle, was the only one not martyred. However, in the year 95, he was taken prisoner at Ephesus and sent to trial in Rome. Sentenced to death, he was boiled in oil before the Latin gate. He was miraculously preserved from the burning, yet he did feel the pain. The miracle moved the emperor to nullify the death sentence and to send him into exile to the island of Patmos. He was later freed and died at Ephesus in the year 100 when he was eighty-eight years old.

Simon, Jude (AKA Thaddaeus, Lebbaeus, Judas), and James the Less, brother, cousins of Jesus. Simon, the Zealot, preached the faith in Persia together with his brother, Jude. Simon was crucified at Edessa in the year 67. Jude, likewise, was martyred that same year in Persia. Jude was clubbed to death. He was also named Thaddeus “big hearted” to distinguish him from Judas the traitor.

James the Less was martyred in the year 62. He was chosen by Jesus to be the first bishop of Jerusalem and he remained there permanently in order to save a remnant of the Jews. The ancients of the Jews, however, tired of his preaching and they took him to the pinnacle of the temple and told him to renounce Christ before all the people who were gathered below. Having none of that, he rather preached Christ crucified as Savior, and they cast him off from his pulpit. Still living after he hit the ground, they finished the job by bashing his brains out with a club. This was recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus.

Philip. Philip was first a disciple of   John the Baptist until John testified that Jesus was the Savior. Philip, then, came to Nathanael and said to him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth” (John 1:45). Nathanael would be an Apostle, too. His Greek name is Bartholomew. Philip powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly martyred at Hierapolis in the year 62. Like Peter, he was crucified upside-down.

Bartholomew (or Nathanael) was introduced to Jesus by Philip. Upon seeing Bartholomew Jesus said to him: “Behold an Israelite in who there is no guile. Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered, and said to him: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, and said: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:47-49). Bartholomew was a nobleman, his name means “son of Ptolemy. He preached the Faith as far away as India. He returned after that to Asia Minor and was martyred by being skinned alive and then beheaded in Armenia in the year 72.

Matthew, another Apostle with a Greek name (Gift of God), a publican, a tax collector in Capharnaum, the city of Peter and Andrew. His Hebrew name was Levi. Matthew left his custom house immediately after Jesus called him: “Come, follow me.” He wrote the first of the Gospels. He wrote it for the Jews. It is filled with citations from the Old Testament prophecies. Matthew preached the Faith in Africa and was martyred in the year 65 in Ethiopia while offering Mass.

Thomas (also called Didymus, which means “the twin.”)   Thomas was not there when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles after His Resurrection. Thomas doubted; in fact, he went so far as to protest: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). When Jesus came to His Apostles the second time, Thomas was there. “Then he saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing” Thomas then said to Him “My Lord and My God” (John 20:27). Thomas preached the Faith in Persia and India where he angered local religious authorities, who martyred him by running him through with 4 spears in the year 74.

Matthias, who replaced Judas, was one of the seventy-two disciples of Our Lord. To qualify he had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry and been a witness to His Resurrection. He preached the Faith first in Judaea, then Cappadocia, and finally in the northern most regions of Asia Minor near the Caspian Sea. Two traditions come down to us regarding his martyrdom in the year 65. One has it that he was crucified, another that he was hacked to death.

All the disciples who ran away in fearful flight (John 20:19) following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were so convinced of the resurrection that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. What gave these cowards the backbone to do this?  All the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. People might live with a lie if it brings them money or power, but people won’t die for a lie. In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations? The fact that all of the apostles were willing to die horrible deaths, refusing to renounce their faith in Christ, is tremendous evidence that they had truly witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Can the Resurrection be proven?

1 Corinthians 15 New International Version (NIV)

15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Christianity is the only religion that can point to a time on the calendar and place on the map and  say “It started here.” The reason Christianity can say that is because of the resurrection. As the letter of Paul points out … this is of first importance. Without the resurrection Jesus was either wonderful teacher who met an untimely end or a failed revolutionary with delusions of grandeur. It was the resurrection that proved Jesus was who He always said He was and why He came to dwell amongst us.

More and more these days people say that they don’t believe in God. People have been making these kinds of statements pretty much ever since language was invented. Even Thomas, one of Jesus disciples, refused to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He changed his mind when Jesus appeared to Him personally.

I doubt any of us will be visited life this but since this was an event rooted in history we can examine it like any other event. First we look at the witness statements and their reliability, second we take proof or evidence, and then we take a look at the aftermath.
      The witness statements     
If we were in a court of law the witness statements to an event could be the difference between life and death. When it comes to the resurrection we could say the same thing. As such reliability of the statements about the resurrection is key.

Written by eyewitnesses.

All NT writers were either apostles or associated with the apostles as eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries. Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus. Mark was a contemporary and associate of the apostle Peter (1 Pet 5:13). Luke was a companion of Paul (2 Tim 4:11) who interviewed many eyewitnesses to produce his account (Luke 1:1-4). James and Jude were closely associated with the apostles in Jerusalem and were Jesus' brothers. Paul received his apostleship by a revelation from Jesus. In each case there is a definite link between the writer and the apostles who gave them information.

Written accounts circulated during time of eyewitnesses (other than NT writers).

The dates of the NT documents indicate that they were written within the lifetime of contemporaries of Christ. People were still alive who could remember the things he said and did. This includes hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teachings about Jesus were going around.

The date of original writing is extremely close to the actual events.

The timing between the events occurring and the writing of the events is far too short for the Gospels to be legends. The Gospel accounts were written at the very most forty to sixty years after Jesus' death. Paul's letters, written just ten to fifteen years after the death of Jesus, provide an outline of all the events of Jesus' life found in the Gospels (his miracles, claims, crucifixion, and resurrection). The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than four hundred years after Alexanders' death, yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy. Why? Because legendary material only began to emerge in the centuries after the early writings, i.e. five hundred years later. So whether the Gospels were written forty or sixty years after the life of Jesus, the amount of time is negligible by comparison. It is therefore very unlikely that those writings would have fallen victim to legend or faulty memories. Professor Sherwin-White, a respected Greco-Roman classical historian from Oxford University established that the passage of two generations was not enough time for legend to develop in the ancient world and wipe out a solid core of historical truth. In the case of Jesus, we have reliable information about his divinity and resurrection that falls safely within that span.

Corroborated by non-Christian accounts.

There are numerous references to Jesus as a historical figure who died at the hand of Pontius Pilate. Some even noted that He was reported to have risen from the dead. Tacitus, a Roman historian, made at least three references to Christ. Josephus, a Jewish historian working for the Romans in the first century, mentioned Jesus, His death and reports of His appearance after death. The fact that neither Josephus nor any other contemporary of the apostles made any attempt to refute the resurrection is significant. Also, the Talmud, a rabbinical commentary on the Torah, mentions Jesus and the Gospels are cited in other first-century works, including The Epistle of Barnabas, The Didache, Clement’s Corinthians, and Ignatius’ Seven Epistles.  The Nazareth Inscription is one of the most powerful pieces of extra-biblical evidence that the resurrection of Christ was being preached right from the earliest beginnings of Christianity.

They died for their story.

With the exception of John, every one of the apostles died horribly violent deaths. Yet they did this without ever denouncing their faith.  Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby.

As French mathmetition Blaise Pascal put it, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” All the disciples who ran away in fearful flight (John 20:19) following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were so convinced of the resurrection that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. What gave these cowards the backbone to do this?  All the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. People might live with a lie if it brings them money or power, but people won’t die for a lie. In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations? The fact that all of the apostles were willing to die horrible deaths, refusing to renounce their faith in Christ, is tremendous evidence that they had truly witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
         The Proof or Evidence the Resurrection Happened
Under this section we will take a look as to what the proof was that the resurrection really happened.

Jesus was Killed

Obviously there cannot be a resurrection unless someone was killed.

Mark 15:44-47 New International Version (NIV)
43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

The way Mark (Mark 15:44-47) reports the burial is significant: He is “certifying” that Jesus was really dead. Joseph of Arimathea is named here as an identified witness who actually had Jesus’ body wrapped up and sealed it in a tomb. A Roman centurion (who would be an expert) bore witness of Jesus’ death to Pilate (who would be the legal authority on the matter). Finally, two women are cited as eyewitnesses to the burial. So multiple experts and witnesses prove He was really dead. Anyone at that time could go and track down witnesses to see what had happened.

The Empty Tomb

This fact is supported by four considerations. First, Jesus was buried in a well-known tomb. This is important, because if the location of Jesus’ tomb was uncontroversial, the claim by the early Church that Jesus had vacated His tomb could have been easily verified (or, for that matter, discounted). That Jesus’ tomb was well known is attested by material both early and non-legendary. Mark’s gospel, written no more than 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and itself based on even earlier sources, mentions that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43). This early detail can’t be a fictitious insertion by later Christian authors. After all, Joseph was a member of the Jewish Council (or Sanhedrin; Mk 15:43). In other words, why would later Christians invent a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist helping Jesus? Had the early Christians created this detail, the Jewish authorities could have disproved it easily. They could have checked the records to find out whether or not Joseph had been a member of the Council and/or whether or not his tomb had been used, not to mention vacated, by Jesus.

Second, not only was Jesus’ tomb well known, it was also found empty. This detail is also found in very early sources, this time not only in Mark’s report (16:1–8) but also in Paul’s (implied in 1 Cor 15:4). In fact, many scholars date the tradition Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15:3 to within five or six years after Jesus’ death. Moreover, Mark’s report that the tomb was found empty by women. Celsus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the second century A.D., was highly antagonistic to Christianity and wrote a number of works listing arguments against it. One of the arguments he believed most telling went like this: Christianity can’t be true, because the written accounts of the resurrection are based on the testimony of women—and we all know women are hysterical. And many of Celsus’ readers agreed: For them, that was a major problem. In ancient societies, as you know, women were marginalized, and the testimony of women was never given much credence.
Do you see what that means? If Mark and the Christians were making up these stories to get their movement off the ground, they would never have written women into the story as the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ empty tomb. If Mark and the early Christians were inventing stories, it would have been fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb. The only possible reason for the presence of women in these accounts is that they really were present and reported what they saw.

Thirdly, think about where Christianity started: Jerusalem.

The disciples went out and preached the message of the risen Jesus in the same city where Jesus was publicly crucified and buried. It would have been easy to crush this movement of unruly fishermen by simply going to Jesus' tomb, pulling out the body, and exposing the followers of Jesus as liars. Both the Romans and the Jews were fed up with this new group of Jesus followers, and they could have easily produced the remains of Jesus' body to quench the Christian movement had the tomb not been empty. But this never happened. The body of Jesus was never produced from the tomb in an attempt to undermine the movement of Jesus followers, nor were there any counter-narratives arguing that the tomb was still occupied.

Fourthly  The Jews were claiming that the disciples had stolen the body.

Matthew 28:11-15 says:
[S]ome of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Why would the Jews circulate the story of Jesus' body being stolen by the disciples if the tomb was not empty? Thus, there would be no need to propagate the idea that the disciples stole Jesus's body from the tomb if the tomb were not empty! In short, the earliest Jewish response was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing and the tomb was empty.

The Resurrection Appearances

Paul’s early account speaks of hundreds of witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus risen (1 Cor 15:5–9). Paul indicates in this text that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist. There are many instances of sightings of Jesus’ resurrection but I like to go to Paul where he says that Jesus appears to 500 people. I like this one because it flies in the face of the argument that these were just hallucinations of distraught people. If it was just one or two that would be one thing, but 500 at a time is unheard of.

3.      The Aftermath

When something happens there are always consequences. If a man gets caught cheating on his wife there are consequences. If you leave the tub running and go to town to do shopping, there are consequences. If you pull the pin on a hand grenade, there are consequences. If something so monumental as a resurrection took place, there would be monumental consequences. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Belief in Resurrection

Matthew 27
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Quite often I hear “Well, people back then believed in the supernatural so they believe people could come back from the dead.” The trouble with this statement is that if there is one thing that modern day atheist and 1st century Jews hold in common is that they didn’t believe in the resurrection. The resurrection was as inconceivable for the first disciples, as impossible for them to believe, as it is for many of us today. Granted, their reasons would have been different from ours. The Greeks did not believe in resurrection; in the Greek worldview, the afterlife was liberation of the soul from the body. For them, resurrection would never be part of life after death. As for the Jews, some of them believed in a future general resurrection when the entire world would be renewed, but they had no concept of an individual rising from the dead. The people of Jesus’ day were not predisposed to believe in resurrection any more than modern day atheists. Even today with global communications at our finger tips, it takes at least 20 years for a new idea to take hold and start to be accepted. In the case of the resurrection it went from not being believed to widely accepted overnight. The letter from 1 Corinthians 15 has been dated back by some experts to about 4 or 5 years form the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we must ask, from whence did this belief in a bodily resurrection come from, if not from the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances?

Explosion of the Christian Church

If you were a gambler in the 1st century and someone came up to you and said “Which do you think will last longer, a religion started by a guy who was just killed and his 12 (or now 11) disciples OR the Roman Empire who is the unchallenged superpower of this Earth.” I am pretty sure you would take the Roman Empire. However, after the death of Jesus the entire Christian community suddenly adopted a set of beliefs that were brand-new. Their view of resurrection was absolutely unprecedented in history. They believed that the future resurrection had already begun in Jesus. There was no process or development. His followers said that their beliefs did not come from debating and discussing philosophical ideas; they were just telling others what they had seen themselves. Even if you propose the highly unlikely idea that one or two disciples did get the idea that He was raised from the dead on their own, they would never have got a movement of other Jews to believe it unless there were multiple, inexplicable, plausible, repeated encounters with Jesus.

How could a group of first-century Jews have come to worship a human being as divine? It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human being should be worshipped. Yet thousands of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognised to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion. What enormous event broke through all of that Jewish resistance? If they had seen him resurrected, this would certainly account for it.

Changed Lives

There were hardened skeptics, like James, Jesus’ brother, and Saul who didn't believe in Jesus before his crucifixion-and were to some degree dead-set against Christianity-who  turned around and adopted the Christian faith after Jesus' death. There's no good reason for this apart from them having experienced the resurrected Christ.

The gospels tell us Jesus' family, including James, were embarrassed by what he was claiming to be. They didn't believe in him; they confronted him. In ancient Judaism it was highly embarrassing for a rabbi's family not to accept him. Therefore the gospel writers would have no motive for fabricating this skepticism if it weren't true. Later the historian Josephus tells us that James, the brother of Jesus, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, was stoned to death because of his belief in his brother. Why did James' life change? Paul tells us: the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. There's no other explanation.

Saul as a Pharisee, hated anything that disrupted the traditions of the Jewish people. To him, this new countermovement called Christianity would have been the height of disloyalty. In fact, he worked out his frustration by executing Christians when he had a chance. Suddenly he doesn't just ease off Christians but joins their movement and ends up dying for the movement. There's no good reason for this apart from them having experienced the resurrected Christ.

Also, as mentioned above, all of the apostles except John died horribly violent deaths in service of spreading the Good News of the Gospel. These are men who, on that Good Friday, ran into the night afraid of being caught. Peter who denied Jesus three times was crucified upside down rather than deny Jesus again. What would change the character of these men so much that they would rather leave their homes and suffer horrible deaths rather than run and hide ever again? The fact that they had witnessed the truth of the resurrection.

My Conclusion

Most people think that, when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection the burned of proof is on believers to give evidence that it happened. That is not completely the case. The resurrection also puts a burden of proof on its nonbelievers. It is not enough to simply say “I don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” You must come up with a reason why, overnight, history changed course and the Christian Church was born. Yet no reasonable answer has ever been given. Every account flies in the face of everything we know about 1st century history, religion, and culture.

I can sympathize with a person who says “I don’t know history and culture but I just can’t believe the resurrection happened.” But you know what, the 1st Century Jews and gentiles felt exactly the same way. They found the resurrection just as inconceivable. The only way anyone embraced the resurrection back then was by letting the evidence challenge their preconceived notions of life and the world and their views as to what is possible. The evidence points to an empty tomb, a missing body, multiple eyewitness accounts of a risen Jesus, and many changed lives as a result … and the evidence was overwhelming.   

Friday, 2 March 2018

Did Jesus really exist?

This is the second installment of our lecture series. This week we will be looking at:

Did Jesus of Nazareth, who was called Christ, exist as a real human being, “the man Christ Jesus” according to 1 Timothy 2:5?

If we want to know if someone exists today we generally ask to see their birth certificate or some kind of photo ID. However, while we don’t have that luxury and even though we are talking about a person who lived over 2000 years ago in a pre-technological culture there are sources we can rely on to prove that Jesus of Nazareth did exist.  The sources we will discuss fall into three main categories: (1) Christian (2) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), and (3) Jewish. 

(1)   Christian

Of course the main Christian source to show that Jesus was a real person is the Bible.  However,  some people today say that the Bible is a book of fairy tales and that it was all made up. What do we have to say to that? There are several reasons why you can trust what the Bible says about Jesus, but I want to mention just three.

First of all the New Testament accounts of Jesus were written too early to be legends. Look at the very beginning of the Gospel of Luke. Luke has written an account of Jesus' life, and notice what he says to his readers: I have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, and I have checked what I have written with eyewitnesses.

Luke is saying that even though he is writing 30 to 40 years after the events of Jesus' resurrection, a lot of people who heard Jesus was still alive—who saw that Jesus was still alive—were still around. He is inviting anyone who reads his words to check his sources.

Writing even more recently than Luke—in other words, even closer to the events of Jesus' life—was Paul. He wrote his letters only 15-20 years after Jesus' ministry on earth. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul, too, says many people saw Jesus appear to them after his death. At one point he says Jesus appeared to 500 people at once. Paul then goes on to say, in essence: Most of them are still alive, and you can still go talk to them.

In an effort to promote the Christian faith, Paul could not possibly have written in a public document that there 500 people who saw Jesus at once—most of them still alive—unless that was really the case.

Consider also Philippians 2. Here Paul quotes a hymn of praise to Jesus' deity and divinity. If Philippians was written only 15 years after the events of Christ's life, and the hymn Paul is quoting had been written by somebody even earlier than that, we know that people were already worshiping Jesus as God. They believed his claims to be God, believed the miracles, believed the crucifixion and death, believed the resurrection appearances.

In The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown depicts Constantine as having basically decreed Jesus' divinity in 325 AD, suppressing all evidence of Jesus' original life as a human teacher. But as we have just seen, the documents of the New Testament are way too early for that to be true.

The dates for the writing of the New Testament documents essentially show that everything about Jesus—his words, his death, his resurrection, his claims to be deity—really happened. Anyone could write documents 200-300 years later when all the eyewitnesses were dead and say anything they wanted about a figure—especially back then. But that person could not say Jesus was crucified and then resurrected when thousands of people were still alive who had seen whether he had been or not. If Jesus hadn't been crucified, if there hadn't been appearances after his death, if there hadn't been an empty tomb, if he hadn't made these claims, and these public documents were just going around claiming all these things to be true—Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.

Second, the New Testament documents are too counterproductive in their content to be legends.  
The theory is that the Bible doesn't give you what actually happened. Instead, what you have in the gospels is what the church leaders wanted you to believe happened, because this is the view of Jesus that helps them consolidate their power and build their movement.


If I'm a church leader living about 70-80 years after Jesus, and I'm concocting these stories, would I record that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked the Father if he could get out of the events that were about to take place? Would I put in my account the moment where Jesus looks up from the cross and says, "You've forsaken me"? Such passages are confusing and offensive even today—let alone to first century readers.

If I was making up these stories, would I have included verse 24 of our text for today—that those who first saw Jesus raised from the dead were women? At a time when women's testimony was not admissible evidence in court because of their low social status, all four gospel accounts say the original eyewitnesses were women. If you were making these stories up in an effort to consolidate your power, you would never make women the eyewitnesses.

Consider also the character of the leaders of the early church. When you study the lives of the apostles in the New Testament, they look like jerks. They look like fools. They look slow of heart. They look like cowards. They look terrible. If you were a leader of the early church, would you make up stories that highlight such unflattering features? Of course you wouldn't! The only possible explanation for these features being listed in the text is because they are true. They're totally counterproductive for the power of the leaders of the early church. The New Testament documents are too counterproductive to be legends.

Finally, the New Testament documents are too detailed in their form to be legends. 

One of the problems with saying the gospel accounts have to be legends is that we don't know much about ancient fiction. The novel or the short story, in which you have realistic fiction written almost like history, is an invention of the 18th century. In ancient times legends were not written like that. You would never start a myth with an invitation to readers to test the facts. Read Beowulf. Read the Greek myths, the Roman myths. Go read anything from the ancient world. They don't start out the way Luke begins—with a challenge. C. S. Lewis was an expert in ancient literature. He had this to say when looking at the gospels: "I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. [With] the gospel texts, there are only two possible views. Either this is historical reportage, or else some unknown ancient writer without known predecessors or successors suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative. The reader who doesn't see this has simply not learned how to read."

Here's the point: The New Testament documents don't have the form of legends. They were written too early, the accounts are too counterproductive, and they don't match the fictional style of the day. You can trust these accounts historically. They tell you what really happened. 

For all the reasons above, we can be sure that we can rely on the Bible and that Jesus of Nazareth did exist.

When people ask whether it is possible to prove that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed the implication is that the Biblical evidence for Jesus is biased because it is encased in a theological text written by committed believers. What they really want to know is:  Is there extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’ existence?” And there are.  

(2) classical (that is, Greco-Roman)

Tacitus—or more formally, Caius/Gaius (or Publius) Cornelius Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)—was a Roman senator, orator and ethnographer, and the best Roman historian of his era.

Tacitus’s last major work, titled Annals, written c. 116–117 C.E., includes a biography of Nero. In 64 C.E., during a fire in Rome, Nero was suspected of secretly ordering the burning of a part of town where he wanted to carry out a building project, so he tried to shift the blame to Christians. This was the occasion for Tacitus to mention Christians, whom he despised. This is what he wrote:

[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.

Tacitus’s terse statement about “Christus” clearly corroborates the New Testament on certain historical details of Jesus’ death. Tacitus presents four pieces of accurate knowledge about Jesus: (1) Christus, used by Tacitus to refer to Jesus, was one distinctive way by which some referred to him; (2) this Christus was associated with the beginning of the movement of Christians, whose name originated from his; (3) he was executed by the Roman governor of Judea; and (4) the time of his death was during Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judea, during the reign of Tiberius. (Many New Testament scholars date Jesus’ death to c. 29 C.E.; Pilate governed Judea in 26–36 C.E., while Tiberius was emperor 14–37 C.E.)

Tacitus, like classical authors in general, does not reveal the source(s) he used, but Tacitus was certainly among Rome’s best historians and never given to careless writing.

Earlier in his career, when Tacitus was Proconsul of Asia, he supervised trials, questioned people accused of being Christians and judged and punished those whom he found guilty, as his friend Pliny the Younger had done when he too was a provincial governor. Thus Tacitus stood a very good chance of becoming aware of information that he characteristically would have wanted to verify before accepting it as true.

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, (61 – c. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger was a contemporary and friend of Tacitus. During his career he was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome.

Pliny the Younger wrote hundreds of letters which are of great historical value. Pliny served as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (who reigned 98–117). As the Roman governor of Bithynia-Pontus (now in modern Turkey) Pliny wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan around 112 AD asking   for counsel on dealing with Christians. In the letter (Epistulae X.96) Pliny detailed an account of how he conducted trials of suspected Christians who appeared before him as a result of anonymous accusations and asked for the Emperor's guidance on how they should be treated. Pliny had never performed a legal investigation of Christians, and thus consulted Trajan in order to be on solid ground regarding his actions, and saved his letters and Trajan's replies. Pliny's letter is the earliest surviving Roman document to refer to early Christians. 

Pliny the Younger, Emperor of Bythynia in northwestern Turkey, writing to Emperor Trajan in 112 A.D. writes:

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deed, but to abstain from all fraud, theft and adultery, never to break their word, or deny a trust when called upon to honor it; after which it was their custom to separate, and then meet again to partake of food, but ordinary and innocent kind.

In this small excerpt confirms the first Christians believed that Jesus was God, that they met on a regular basis on a fixed day, and that Jesus taught a high moral code that they followed.
 Jewish Sources
The other strong evidence that speaks directly about Jesus as a real person comes from Josephus, a Jewish priest who grew up as an aristocrat in first-century Palestine and ended up living in Rome, supported by the patronage of three successive emperors. In the early days of the first Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–70 C.E.), Josephus was a commander in Galilee but soon surrendered and became a prisoner of war. He then prophesied that his conqueror, the Roman commander Vespasian, would become emperor, and when this actually happened, Vespasian freed him. “From then on Josephus lived in Rome under the protection of the Flavians and there composed his historical and apologetic writings” (Quoted from Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 64). He even took the name Flavius, after the family name of his patron, the emperor Vespasian, and set it before his birth name, becoming, in true Roman style, Flavius Josephus. Most Jews viewed him as a despicable traitor. It was by command of Vespasian’s son Titus that a Roman army in 70 C.E. destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple, stealing its contents as spoils of war, which are partly portrayed in the imagery of their gloating triumph on the Arch of Titus in Rome. After Titus succeeded his father as emperor, Josephus accepted the son’s imperial patronage, as he did of Titus’s brother and successor, Domitian.
Yet in his own mind, Josephus remained a Jew and in his writings extolled Judaism. At the same time, by aligning himself with Roman emperors who were at that time the worst enemies of the Jewish people, he chose to ignore Jewish popular opinion.

Josephus stood in a unique position as a Jew who was secure in Roman imperial patronage and protection, eager to express pride in his Jewish heritage and yet personally independent of the Jewish community at large. Thus, in introducing Romans to Judaism, he felt free to write historical views for Roman consumption that were strongly at variance with rabbinic views.

In his two great works, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities, both written in Greek for educated people, Josephus tried to appeal to aristocrats in the Roman world, presenting Judaism as a religion to be admired for its moral and philosophical depth. The Jewish Antiquities  mentions Jesus twice.

The shorter of these two references to Jesus (in Book 20) is incidental to identifying Jesus’ brother James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem. In the temporary absence of a Roman governor between Festus’s death and governor Albinus’s arrival in 62 C.E., the high priest Ananus instigated James’s execution. This is how Josephus described it:

Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.

James is otherwise a barely noticed, minor figure in Josephus’s lengthy tome. The sole reason for referring to James at all was that his death resulted in Ananus losing his position as high priest. James (Jacob) was a common Jewish name at this time. Many men named James are mentioned in Josephus’s works, so Josephus needed to specify which one he meant. The common custom of simply giving the father’s name (James, son of Joseph) would not work here, because James’s father’s name was also very common. Therefore Josephus identified this James by reference to his famous brother Jesus. But James’s brother Jesus also had a very common name. Josephus mentions at least 12 other men named Jesus. Therefore Josephus specified which Jesus he was referring to by adding the phrase “who is called Messiah,” or, since he was writing in Greek, Christos. This phrase was necessary to identify clearly first Jesus and, via Jesus, James, the subject of the discussion. This extraneous reference to Jesus would have made no sense if Jesus had not been a real person. 

The phrase translated “who is called Christ,” signifies either that Jesus was mentioned earlier in the book or that readers knew him well enough to grasp the reference to him in identifying James.

This short identification of James by the title that some people used in order to specify his brother gains credibility as an affirmation of Jesus’ existence because the passage is not about Jesus. Rather, his name appears in a functional phrase that is called for by the sense of the passage. It can only be useful for the identification of James if it is a reference to a real person, namely, “Jesus who is called Christ.”

The longer passage in Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities (Book 18) that refers to Jesus is known as the Testimonium Flavianum. This reference provides additional evidence for Jesus’ existence. The Testimonium Flavianum reads as follows:

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.

All surviving manuscripts of the Testimonium Flavianum that are in Greek, like the original, contain the same version of this passage, with no significant differences. Even more important, the short passage (mentioned above) that mentions Jesus in order to identify James appears in a later section of the book (Book 20) and implies that Jesus was mentioned previously.

We can learn quite a bit about Jesus from Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Josephus, three famous historians who were not Christian. Almost all the following statements about Jesus, which are asserted in the New Testament, are corroborated or confirmed by the relevant passages in Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and Josephus. These independent historical sources—two non-Christian Romans and the other Jewish—confirm what we are told in the Gospels:

1. He existed as a man. The historian Josephus grew up in a priestly family in first-century Palestine and wrote only decades after Jesus’ death. Jesus’ known associates, such as Jesus’ brother James, were Josephus’ contemporaries. The historical and cultural context was second nature to Josephus. “If any Jewish writer were ever in a position to know about the non-existence of Jesus, it would have been Josephus. His implicit affirmation of the existence of Jesus has been, and still is, the most significant obstacle for those who argue that the extra-Biblical evidence is not probative on this point,” And Tacitus was careful enough not to report real executions of nonexistent people.

2. His personal name was Jesus, as Josephus informs us.

3. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean “anointed” or “(the) anointed one,” as Josephus states and Tacitus implies.

4. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as Josephus reports.

5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), according to Josephus, large growth in the number of Jesus’ actual followers came only after his death.

6. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him.

7. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed, as both Tacitus and Josephus state.

8. His execution was specifically by crucifixion, according to Josephus.

9. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.), as Josephus implies and Tacitus states, adding that it was during Tiberius’s reign.

Some of Jesus’ followers did not abandon their personal loyalty to him even after his crucifixion but submitted to his teaching. They believed that Jesus later appeared to them alive in accordance with prophecies, most likely those found in the Hebrew Bible. A well-attested link between Jesus and Christians is that Christ, as a term used to identify Jesus, became the basis of the term used to identify his followers: Christians. The Christian movement began in Judea, according to Tacitus. Josephus observes that it continued during the first century. Tacitus tells us that by the second century it had spread as far as Rome.

Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. No pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus’ historicity or even questioned it.

The nondenial of Jesus’ existence is particularly notable in rabbinic writings of those first several centuries C.E. If anyone in the ancient world had a reason to dislike the Christian faith, it was the rabbis. To argue successfully that Jesus never existed but was a creation of early Christians would have been the most effective argument against Christianity yet all Jewish sources treat Jesus as a fully historical person. Instead, the rabbis tried to use the real events of Jesus’ life against him. They was denounced him as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer, that his miracles were evil magic, that he encouraged the apostasy and was justly executed for his own sins. But they do not deny his existence. Why? Because they could not say Jesus didn’t exist when thousands of people were still alive who had seen him, heard of him, or had been to hear him speak.

Lucian of Samosata (c. 115–200 C.E.) was a Greek satirist who wrote The Passing of Peregrinus, about a former Christian who later became a famous Cynic and revolutionary and died in 165 C.E. In two sections of Peregrinus—Lucian, while discussing Peregrinus’s career, without naming Jesus, clearly refers to him, albeit with contempt in the midst of satire:

It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And— what else?—in short order he made them look like children, for he was a prophet, cult leader, head of the congregation and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books, and wrote many himself. They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws.

Although Lucian was aware of the Christians’ “books” (some of which might have been parts of the New Testament), his many bits of misinformation make it seem very likely that he did not read them. The compound term “priests and scribes,” for example, seems to have been borrowed from Judaism, and indeed, Christianity and Judaism were sometimes confused among classical authors.

Lucian seems to have gathered all of his information from sources independent of the New Testament and other Christian writings. For this reason, this writing of his is usually valued as independent evidence for the existence of Jesus. This is true despite his ridicule and contempt for Christians and their “crucified sophist.” Lucian despised Christians for worshiping someone thought to be a criminal worthy of death and especially despised “the man who was crucified.”

Celsus, the Platonist philosopher, considered Jesus to be a magician who made exorbitant claims.

Suetonius, a Roman writer, lawyer and historian, wrote of riots in 49 C.E. among Jews in Rome which might have been about Christus but which he thought were incited by “the instigator Chrestus,” whose identification with Jesus is not completely certain.

Mara bar Serapion, a prisoner of war held by the Romans, wrote a letter to his son that described “the wise Jewish king” in a way that seems to indicate Jesus but does not specify his identity.

As a final observation: In New Testament scholarship generally, a number of specialists consider the question of whether Jesus existed to have been finally and conclusively settled in the affirmative. A few vocal scholars, however, still deny that he ever lived.