We have been considering Real Answers to the Big Questions. Today’s question is one that skeptics ask. Some deny that Jesus existed, or that the Jesus of history is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Did Jesus Really Exist?
To answer this question, Christians look to the BIBLE. We read texts like Peter’s Day of Pentecost sermon and believe in the veracity of the words. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”” (Acts 2:36, ESV)
Or we might look to the passages containing the healing of the lame man and observe the factuality with which Peter speaks of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:13–15, ESV)
SKEPTICS however, dismiss the Bible and look elsewhere. One view is that JESUS was a MYTH. This is the view of an academic source in a recent article promoted on CNN. Others believe Jesus was a real person but did not do the things we read in the BIBLE. This is the view of the JESUS SEMINAR. During the 1980’s and 90’s a group of 150 Scholars developed a bizarre method for determining words that Jesus actually said, and things Jesus actually did. To determine which parts of the gospels were authentic, the 150 scholars would “vote” on each passage, signifying their vote with a different colored bead:
Red beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did say the passage quoted, or something very much like the passage. (3 Points)
Pink beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus probably said something like the passage. (2 Points)
Grey beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage, but it contains Jesus’ ideas. (1 Point)
Black beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage—it comes from later admirers or a different tradition. (0 Points)
According to the Jesus Seminar:
• Jesus of Nazareth was born during the reign of Herod the Great.
• His mother’s name was Mary, and he had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph.
• Jesus was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.
• Jesus was an itinerant sage who shared meals with social outcasts.
• Jesus practiced faith healing without the use of ancient medicine or magic, relieving afflictions we now consider psychosomatic.
• He did not walk on water, feed the multitude with loaves and fishes, change water into wine or raise Lazarus from the dead.
• Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified by the Romans.
• He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the Son of God.
• The empty tomb is a fiction – Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead.
• Belief in the resurrection is based on the visionary experiences of Paul, Peter and Mary Magdalene.
How do we answer the skeptics?
I. Ask the Eyewitness
When the police show up on the scene of an accident or crime, the first part of their investigation is to LOOK FOR WITNESSES!
This witness account is highly emphasized in the Gospels. Remember that Apostles were required to have personally witnessed ALL of the ministry of Jesus. Acts 1:21-22 “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us, one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
When Peter preached on Pentecost, he reminded the Jews that they were eyewitnesses of the events of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection that had just occurred a few weeks earlier! “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32, ESV)
Peter’s sermon in the Temple Courts repeated this theme. “And you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15, ESV)
The emphasis of eyewitness accounts is emphasized again in Acts 5, this time in front of the hostile audience of the Jewish leaders. “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”” (Acts 5:32, ESV)
When Peter preached to the Gentiles, he also reminded them that they were witnesses to Christ’s life, death and resurrection. “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,” (Acts 10:39, ESV)
During a police investigation, after eyewitness accounts are collected, they are compared to search out any inconsistencies that might reveal whether or not any of the witness accounts might be invalid.
Investigators look for inconsistencies between the witnesses, or contradictory statements made by a witness.
What about the witnesses to the life of Christ?
First there is only a short gap between the event and their testimony. The Crucifixion took place on April 3, 33 AD. We learn this from comparing Luke 3:1-2 “15th year of Tiberias, with historical records. Gospels record 3 Passovers in the life of Christ. So we know the very day the crucifixion took place.
That means that the Resurrection occurred on April 5, 33 AD. There is a gap of 47 Days between the crucifixion (on Passover) and Pentecost (50 days later). If the events were not true, the Jews would never have followed!!!
CHUCK COLSON explains this in his own experiences during Watergate. “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” Chuck Colson
There is also a Short Gap Between their testimony and the written evidence.
The First Manuscript (fragment of John’s Gospel) is dated at 90 AD. Another manuscript, the Chester Beaty Papyrus which contains most of the NT was written in 100 AD. By the time we get to 300 AD, there are existing manuscripts of the entire New Testament (Siniaticus and Vaticanus). Greek scholar Daniel Wallace writes, “we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts.” Daniel Wallace, http://www.dts.edu/read/wallace-new-testament-manscript-first-century
This tells us that there is very little chance that the events portrayed in the gospels were fabricated. The written records would have quickly been debunked if this information was false. There were too many eyewitnesses.
The next step in the investigative process is to seek for additional evidence that can corroborate the eyewitness accounts. On this matter we find No less than 39 references from ancient literature testify concerning Jesus. Many of them are “hostile witnesses” (people or groups opposed to Jesus and his followers). Here are just a few:
Cornelius Tacitus (AD 55-120), the greatest historian of ancient Rome. “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” (Annals 15.44.2-4)
The Jewish Talmud (AD 70-200) Speaks of Jesus hanging on a cross (The Babylonian Talmud, translated by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281)
Lucian (AD 120-180), Greek satirist writes about Jesus being crucified and his followers believing that they will be immortal for all time, and they are all brothers. From the moment they are converted they deny the gods of Greece and worship only Jesus. (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, translated by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4
Julius Africanus (c. AD 160 – 240), referring to writings by Thallus and Phlegon who wrote of darkness during the Crucifixion (The Chronology of Julius Africanus,18.1)
If Jesus did not exist, or if the information within these documents was false or corrupt—those who knew Jesus—either friend or enemy, would have objected to the misinformation.
Finally, a good investigator will Synthesize of the Evidence. When we do, we find that the testimony of the gospels is authentic and has been validated through numerous non-biblical sources.
Who is Jesus?
What you believe about Jesus matters for this life and for eternity.
(Matthew 16:13–15, ESV) “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?””