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Monday, September 23, 2013

Jesus Is Real

A 2012 survey of New Yorkers showed that 37 percent of adults believed that Santa Claus was real.  Over one-third of Americans believe in UFOs.  Within thirty years of the Apollo moon landing, 6 percent of Americans did not believe that it happened.  Belief is a funny thing.  As children, we believe pretty much everything we’re told.  Maturity seems to rob us of that.  We begin to question things.  Unless someone can present stone-hard facts, we reserve the right to doubt everything.  Many still refuse to believe even when they are given factual evidence.

Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  That He is God.  They are frequently mocked for holding this belief.  Stories about who Jesus was and what His followers claimed that He did have been debated for two thousand years.  There are two million web sites dedicated to the virgin birth of Jesus.  Eight million dedicated to the miracles of Jesus.  Nine million sites on Jesus’ resurrection.  Twenty-eight million on the second coming of Christ.  Google “Is Jesus the Son of God,” and you are hit with 86 million results.

All of these are wonderful debate topics—many of which I will attempt to tackle this year—but absolutely none of them are relevant without answering this question: Was Jesus even real?  Did He literally walk this earth, or is He merely a story?  A myth.  A legend.  This is an absolutely crucial question because the entirety of the Christian faith is based on His life.  If Jesus was not a literal man on this planet, then our faith is built on a lie.  The Bible becomes a work of fiction.  In the age of knowledge, the age of information, the age of constant-questioning, our proof must be concrete.

Was Alexander the Great a real person?  We accept that he lived because historians tell us that he did.  They tell us that he became king of Macedonia in 336 B.C.  That he was a battle-tested genius who died in his early thirties after conquering numerous countries.  But were you aware that the history of Alexander is drawn from five ancient sources written three hundred or more years after he died?  That not one eyewitness account of Alexander exists?  However, historians believe that he existed, largely because the accounts of his life are confirmed by archaeology and his impact on history.  The same can be said of Jesus.

In 1961, archaeologists discovered a block of limestone inscribed with the name of “Pontius Pilate prefect of Judea.”  In 1990, archaeologists discovered an ossuary (bone box) with the inscription of Caiaphas.  Both were major figures in the trial leading to the crucifixion of Jesus, and these two finds have been verified as authentic “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  On December 21, 2009, archaeologists announced the discovery of first-century clay shards in Nazareth, confirming that this tiny hamlet existed during the time of Christ.  While these finds don’t prove that Jesus was there, they do support what the Bible tells us about this time.  Historians note that this evidence helps confirm rather than denies Christ’s existence.

When trying to disprove the life of Jesus, however, doubters immediately throw out the Bible.  They say that it’s nothing more than a book of stories written by the disciples—a group of men who created “Jesus” as a symbol of their faith.  By that logic, we then must assume that Socrates is a figment of the imagination as he exists only in the writings of his students.  There is not a single document still in existence that contains his original works.

The Bible is a historical document.  Period.  Most historians date the books of the New Testament to have been written between A.D. 49-95…meaning they were written when eyewitnesses were alive, much too early for a myth or legend to develop.  Over 24,000 complete or partial manuscript copies of the New Testament books exist, putting it far above all other ancient documents.  Considering that at that time, 95 percent of the population was illiterate, it’s amazing that we have any written history at all.

The book of Luke is a book of history.  Luke found the story of Jesus fascinating…so he began researching and writing an account of Christ’s life.  What he found became the longest book of all the gospels.  He admitted that his accounts were not as an eyewitness, but that he interviewed numerous eyewitnesses.  He read written accounts from other eyewitnesses.  Luke was a man of science.  A doctor.  He lived and wrote on facts.  What’s more, his research was funded by a Roman governor.  The Romans didn’t exactly like Christians, so his findings could have landed him in very hot water—yet he stood by them.  Noted archaeologist Sir William Ramset: “Luke is a historian of the first rank…This author should be placed along with the very greatest historians…Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

Furthermore, the works of Plato were written from 427-347 B.C., yet the earliest manuscript copies of them were not written until A.D. 900.  That’s 1,200 years after Plato’s death.  Plus, there are only two copies of these manuscripts in existence.  Julius Caesar’s earliest manuscript copies were also written around A.D. 900, about 1,000 years after his death, and only ten copies of Gallic Wars still exist.  Yet no one questions whether or not Plato or Caesar existed.  The Iliad is guessed to have been written around 900 B.C., with the earliest copy written around 400 B.C.—meaning the only proof of it being accurate is from 500 years after the author’s death.  There are 643 copies of the ancient manuscripts of The Iliad, and when they are compared against each other by experts, they have a 95.3% consistency and accuracy score, making it one of the most reliable and proven ancient documents…until you compare it to the New Testament, with manuscripts dating less than 100 years after the death of Christ.  There are over 5,600 ancient copies (dwarfing any other figure of ancient history) that carry a 99% consistency and accuracy score when compared to each other.

Even Cambridge historian Michael Grant, who’s an atheist, argues that the New Testament should be considered as evidence in the same way as other ancient history.  “We can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”

This needs to be noted.  Historians—not Christians—claim that the New Testament is an accurate and viable historical source.  That is a very important statement to remember as the New Testament will be used frequently as evidence in the rest of my topics this year.  Despite this evidence, I want the doubters to be satisfied, so I will not use any scripture to prove the existence of Jesus.  In fact, I will use very little Christian evidence at all.  What follows are not stories.  They are not legends.  They are historical facts, written by historians, not religious leaders.  Jesus is mentioned in these records.  As are His relatives.  As are His friends.  As are His followers.

·        Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century (and not a Christian), is well-known to historians and scholars.  From A.D. 90-95, Josephus put together a massive historical collection, entitled Antiquities of the Jews.  In it, he mentioned Jesus twice.  The most famous one reads, “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, - a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure.  He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles.  He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
·        Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman senator, one of ancient Rome’s greatest historians, and no lover of Christians.  In his 16-volume history of the Roman emperors (called Annals), he wrote that “Christus (Christ), from whom the name (Christians) had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius at the hand of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition…broke out not only in Judaea…but even in Rome.”  A most mischievous superstition is probably a reference to Christians’ belief that Jesus rose from the dead after His crucifixion.  The biggest argument doubters have towards Christ’s existence is that those who wrote about Jesus wrote based on hearsay.  In his writings, Tacitus distinguishes between confirmed and hearsay accounts almost 70 times.  If he felt this account of Jesus was only a rumor or folklore, he would have issued his usual disclaimer that this account was unverified.
·        Justin Martyr, an educated pagan philosopher, converted to Christianity around A.D. 130 while trying to find information on the life of Christ.  In a letter presumably sent to the Roman official who ultimately killed him for his beliefs, Martyr referred to tax registers that document Jesus’ birth.

In total, nine non-Christian writers mention Jesus as a real person within 150 years of His death.  These writers provide us with the following: Jesus was from Nazareth.  His enemies acknowledged that He performed unusual feats.  He was crucified in Judea.  His disciples believed that He died and rose from the dead three days later.  His disciples multiplied rapidly and worshiped Him as God…all of which falls in line with what the Bible tells us.  Israeli scholar Shlomo Pines writes, “Even the most bitter opponents of Christianity never expressed any doubt as to Jesus having really lived.”

World historian Will Durant agrees, noting that no Jew or Gentile from the first century ever denied the existence of Jesus.

Don’t miss that statement.  There are thousands of ancient documents commenting on the life of Jesus Christ.  No ancient document exists that questions whether or not Jesus walked this earth.

If there were questions of Christ’s life, why didn’t the Jews say something then?  Why didn’t the Romans?  If there was any doubt as to Jesus being a real man, why—when Christians were being executed for their beliefs—why did no one attempt to disprove His existence then?  Wouldn’t they have the most to gain by denying His life?

What’s more, early Christians wrote letters, sermons, and commentaries about Jesus detailing His life, death, and resurrection, many appearing as early as five years after His crucifixion.  Over 36,000 complete or partial such writings have been discovered.  If Jesus is a myth, how did so many come to write about Him within years of His life?

Simply put: No other ancient historical person—religious or secular—is backed up by as much documentation as is Jesus Christ.

We argue everything in today’s world.  Over 710 million sites are devoted to discussing the question “Is Jesus God,” yet only a miniscule 88,000 to “Did Jesus exist.”  It is just not a topic that educated minds spend time on because the proof of His existence is too overwhelming.

If someone still is not satisfied, then it is up to them to dig for the proof.  The Christian community is full of people who spent years of their life trying to disprove Christ…only to find Him (C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, etc).  What does that say?  If you have questions, if you have doubts, if you want proof?  Search for it.  Dig for it.  God wants you to seek the Truth.

The proof is concrete.  Jesus Christ is no story.  No myth.  No legend.  Few dispute that He actually existed.  They might call Him a moral man or a teacher and philosopher, but they accept Him as real.  H.G. Wells writes, “I’m a historian.  I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that…Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history.”  Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette: “As the centuries pass, the evidence is accumulating that, measured by his affect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on the planet.”

How often does a moral person become the most dominant figure in all of history?  How often does a teacher and philosopher become the most influential life to have ever lived?  How does a mere man—not a political man, not a military man—just a man receive this kind of following?  Have the best-selling book of all time, based on his life, translated into thousands of different languages?  Have hundreds of thousands of buildings resurrected with the intent of teaching his lessons.  Have billions claiming to follow him, most of whom would be willing to die for their faith in him?

Never.  These things have never happened to a man.  That’s because Jesus was no mere man.  He lived—history has proven that—but He was no ordinary man.  Jesus claimed to be the Messiah.  He claimed to be the Son of God.  He claimed to be God.  And He was.  And He is.  He was and is all of those things and more.  Jesus is real.  Jesus is polarizing.  Jesus is compassionate.  Jesus is cool.  Jesus is tempted.  Jesus is the healer.  Jesus is the light.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is our friend/parent/lawyer/protector/warrior.  Jesus is rejected but victorious.  Jesus is grace.  Jesus is love.  Jesus is the resurrection.  Jesus is life.  Jesus is peace.  Jesus is coming.  Jesus is alive.

Jesus IS.

I obviously did a lot of research for this, but most of the research was duplicated in multiple places.  Instead of citing every statement or every fact or every quote within the post, here is a list of the places where I spent the most time collecting information.

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