Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jesus Existed

(Especially for my Redeemer family)

Several years ago I received a phone call from a high school girl who came to Redeemer. She was crying as she told me about her high school biology teacher. This teacher at one point in his teaching left the subject of biology and stated, "There is no evidence that Jesus ever existed." This shocked a number of students in class. The teacher then said, "If you can show me evidence please feel free to bring it to class."

I suggested to her that she bring me into the class to present the case for the existence of Jesus. I wrote a letter to the teacher. When I learned his name I realized he was, at that time, a student in my 
MCCC Philosophy of Religion class! 

When the time came for me to speak on the existence of Jesus at Monroe High School so many students had heard about this that it was decided to hold the event in the school auditorium. 170 students came to hear me as I spoke for 90 minutes, making the historical case for Jesus' existence. There was a Q&A after my talk. Many students asked questions. They were so interested in the subject of Jesus! Now, years later, I've had people who were in the auditorium that day tell me how much it impressed and influenced them. A number of them enrolled in my college philosophy classes as a result of this.

Perhaps you have heard, or read on the Internet, the claim that Jesus never really existed, and that the figure of Jesus in the Bible is all made up. That claim is false. As small a point as it seems to be, Jesus actually existed. No reputable New Testament scholar believes otherwise (actually, maybe one does, but he is in the extreme minority). 

Here are some reasons why.

It is unsurprising that Jesus is not mentioned in any Roman sources of his time.

"It is true that Jesus is not mentioned in any Roman sources of his day. That should hardly count against his existence, however, since these same sources mention scarcely anyone from his time and place. Not even the famous Jewish historian, Josephus, or even more notably, the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate." (Bart Ehrman)

Even biased sources provide evidence for a person's existence.

Our best sources for the existence and life of Jesus are the four Gospels. Are they biased? Of course they are. Is bias bad? Of course not. Everyone is biased. No historian (nor you, the reader of this) is without bias. But note this. Ehrman writes: "You may not trust Rush Limbaugh's views of [Hillary Clinton], but he certainly provides evidence that she exists." (Ib.) Precisely.

Usually followers write what is most true and meaningful about their teachers.

Regarding the "bias objection" Craig Keener notes that:

"Most people write only about what they care about. The only substantive early works about Socrates derive from his followers. The Dead Sea Scrolls extol their community's founder, but no other reports of him survive. The Jewish historian Josephus claims to be a Pharisee, yet never mentions Hillel, who is famous in Pharisees' traditions. Israeli scholar David Flusser correctly observes that it is usually followers who preserve what is most meaningful about their teachers, whether the leaders were Buddha, Muhammad, Mormon leader Joseph Smith or African prophet Simon Kimbangu." (Keener, "Jesus Existed") 

There are no parallels between Jesus and pagan "savior-gods."

The alleged parallels between Jesus and pagan "savior-gods" (like the silly "Zeitgeist" movie) are only fit for Facebook (viz., ultra-biased atheists who: 1) are ignorant of ancient pagan mythology; and 2) who hyper-spin non-facts to justify their atheism). Ehrman writes: "We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions)."

Anyone wanting to make up a story about a new Savior would not have given us a crucified Messiah. 

"The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that." (Ehrman) Ehrman says the early Christians "knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus." (Ib.)

Early extrabiblical writers believed Jesus existed.

Keener writes that the first-century Jewish historian mentions Jesus and John the Baptist as major prophetic figures. 

Syrian philosopher Mara bar Sarapion, writing earlier than Josphuus, claimed that Jesus was "a wise Jewish king." (Keener)

Writing just 31-34 years after Jesus' death Tacitus reported that Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate. (Keener)

The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus as an historical person just 15-30 years after Jesus' ministry. "Rightly or wrongly, Paul staked the rest of his life on this experience." (Keener)

Mark's Gospel was circulating some 30-40 years after Jesus' ministry. Keener writes: "Luke reports that "many" had already written accounts by the time Luke writes. Luke shares with Matthew some common material that most scholars think is even earlier than Mark. Only a small minority of figures in antiquity had surviving works written about them so soon after their deaths." 

Keener adds: "What can the first-century Gospels tell us? Certainly at the least they indicate that Jesus was a historical figure."

It is illogical to think that Jesus' followers would make us a Jesus to live and die for.

Keener concludes:

"Yet, valuable as examining such historical evidence is, we must return to where we started. Logically, why would Jesus' followers make up a Jesus to live and die for? Why not glorify real founders (as movements normally did)? Why make up a leader and have him executed on a Roman cross? To follow one executed for treason was itself treason. To follow a crucified leader was to court persecution. Some people do give their lives for their beliefs, but for beliefs, not normally for what they know to be fabricated. Jesus' first movement would not have made up his execution or his existence. How much they actually remembered about him is a subject for a future post."


Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A case for the Historical Reliabilty of the Synoptic Tradition

James Beilby and Paul Eddy, The Historical Jesus: Five Views