The Real Jesus

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, June 11, 2015 2 comments

by Steve Risner

Was Jesus of Nazareth really a resident of the Middle East? Did He exist and walk among the people or was His story concocted by some uneducated fishermen who have fabricated the greatest hoax in the history of the world? I know. It’s pretty obvious my take on it since I’m writing for a ministry whose stated goal is to “equip students to impact this generation for Jesus Christ,” but there are actually some who will use this argument—that Jesus never actually existed—to confuse believers and especially young believers or students. Let’s take a look at a portion of the evidence.

I’ll start with Biblical evidence. It’s the least respected by the atheist for obvious reasons, but I think that’s simply because they need to reject it. It’s not because of the merit of the source. The New Testament is a collection of 27 books that are a result of and confirm the existence of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. These are 27 documents, some historical in genre, written by at least 8 different people all testifying to the ministry of Christ. This by itself should be enough to confirm Christ’s existence. But some will scoff and waive their hand. “I don’t believe your precious holy book and don’t care what it says,” they’ll tell you. So let’s look at other Christian sources.

With historical accounts, obviously the closer the writer was to the actual events in terms of time the better. There are several early Church fathers that lived within two generations of Jesus Christ that contribute to the historical evidence for Jesus. These sources would be independent of New Testament writings and likely had firsthand knowledge of Jesus or personal contact with someone who had firsthand knowledge of Jesus. Of exceptional note would be three Church fathers—Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna.

Clement wrote at least one letter to the church in Corinth about 50 years or so after Paul wrote to the same church. According to early church writer Tertullian, Clement was consecrated by Peter. He is considered the first of the Apostolic Fathers. Ignatius lived in the mid to late first century and was a student of the Apostle John. He’s considered one of the Apostolic Fathers as well. He wrote 7 letters to various churches and to Polycarp, his friend. Polycarp, a contemporary of Ignatius, was also trained by John the Apostle. Some suggest he compiled most of what we call the New Testament. These three men, as well as a host of others, wrote about Jesus Christ and wrote because of Jesus Christ. It would seem very unlikely that these men who lived and trained with people who claimed to know Jesus personally during His earthly ministry would have written about Jesus if He had not actually existed. It also seems that these men would not have chosen to die for the faith if Jesus Christ was not a real person. All of these men were martyred.

But some will say this means nothing. These are all people who had “skin in the game” so to speak (which is laughable in and of itself—suggesting anyone would willingly allow themselves to be executed for something they knew was false) so they had reason to lie. So what about non-Christian sources? There are just short of a dozen sources that speak of Jesus Christ written by people who did not believe He was the Messiah. There are about 4 that are considered very important.

Of course, the first of these is Josephus. He is by the far the most noted Jewish historian of the time. There are at least two references of his to the existence of Christ. One of these is considered at least partially doctored, giving it a more Christian sound. It’s considered fairly certain to have originally been about Jesus, but the language was likely changed to put Christ in a more positive light than Josephus had intended. The other is pretty certain because Josephus mentions Jesus in passing. He is referring to James, the brother of Jesus, who was executed by Hanan ben Hanan, the high priest of the time. He states, “So he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” This only matters because James was no one if not the brother of Jesus. But it’s known that Josephus lived in Jerusalem at the time of James’ execution, adding credibility to the account.

Tacticus was a Roman Senator who wrote on Roman history. When Nero tried to blame Christians for the burning of Rome in 64 AD, he mentioned Jesus in his account. He writes, “Hence to suppress the rumor, he [Nero] falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.” Obviously, he was no lover or respecter of Christ but mentions him, giving a solid account of His existence.

Another Roman official, Gaius Caecilius also known as Pliny the Younger (his uncle who raised him was Pliny the Elder), also wrote about Christ and his followers. He wrote many letters to various Romans including Emperor Trajan. One example explains common practices of the Christians of the time: “They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of a meal–but ordinary and innocent food.” This is one mention of the Way in his writings. It’s noteworthy simply because he confirms for us that within one generation of Christ’s Resurrection, the Church was well established. Many of these Christians would have had firsthand knowledge of Jesus.

For me, the last of these sources is the most profound and most interesting. Thallus is the earliest of the Gentile writers, writing around 50 or 55 AD. He tried to give a natural explanation for the darkness that covered the earth at the crucifixion as recorded in the Gospels. Sadly, only citations to his work are in existence today. J Africanus wrote in the 3rd century, citing Thallus as using a solar eclipse as an explanation for this darkness. This, of course, is impossible. The full moon is when Passover is celebrated—when Christ was crucified. A new moon is necessary for an eclipse. This is 2 weeks away in terms of the lunar cycle!

The atheist may try to explain away these fairly conclusive sources, but the case for the existence of Christ is closed. Of course, as a follower of Christ, you and I know that Christ walked the earth and lives in our hearts today. We know Him personally. It’s not a matter so much of the evidence, although the evidence confirms what we know in our hearts. This is one of the amazing things I find with “former Christian turned atheist” stories. They either were not a Christian, were crazy, or are just being dishonest. I say that because the claim is that they once had a relationship with Christ (the basis of the Christian faith) and now claim He doesn’t exist. This is a common symptom of schizophrenia and other psychological disorders. You decide.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.


Anonymous said...

Great compilation of facts! He Lives!

Steve said...

Thank you! And He does!