Jesus has been referred to in many different ways, both good and bad. Christians refer to Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, the second Person of the Trinity, while others seem to feel He was simply a man, be it a good man, a prophet, or otherwise. Many claim that He is the same, regardless of one’s worldview. While still others do not believe He existed at all. The purpose of this paper is to provide the historical evidence of Jesus, the Man.
A follower of Jesus obviously believes the Bible, yet to some that may all that seems to be necessary. However, the Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”. The point here is to “give an answer to everyone”, while some may feel theory answer of faith is sufficient, typically someone who does not believe the Bible would either continue not believing, or question the answer of faith. All too often followers of Christ are forced into a position of defending their faith, while at the same time are instructed to “have an answer” for their faith. It would seem if one is a follower, then having an answer would be a given. After all, it is God we are talking about. To this writer it is a driving force to have an answer, while it would appear that many, if not most, do not see it as important. So what does all of this have to do with the historicity of Jesus? The fact that we need to know why we believe what we believe. We need to know the history of Jesus. We need to be able to provide an answer. The Mormon faith has answers, and a history of Jesus. So do the Muslims, Catholics, and other worldviews and gospels. Gospels are included simply to make a point of the so-called prosperity gospel, and the false teachings of it, along with the other beliefs of the views mentioned. The history of Jesus is vitally important when one considers that fifty to eighty percent of college students leave the faith when they go to college. There are at least two types of study to help establish the historicity of Jesus. One being apologetics, a greek term, apologia, simply meaning to give a defense or reason, and the theological study of Christology. We will use a portion of both to establish our answer for the history of Jesus, the Man.
Christology: Doctrine of Christ
“The doctrine of the humanity of Christ is equally important as the doctrine of the deity of Christ. First John was written to dispel the doctrinal error that denies the true humanity of Christ (cf. 1 John 4:2).”1 The obvious starting point is the Word of God, or the Bible, in which if one is confronting a non-believer may or may not be a good source of evidence. However, the scriptures teach the true humanity of Christ, albeit without the sinful nature of man. Further, to establish a foundation for the historicity of Jesus, on must consider the humanity of Him also.
Jesus was born of a virgin, according to scripture, had a true body of flesh and blood, developed as humans develop, i.e., from infant to toddler, through childhood to adulthood. This, being a basic definition, of establishing the humanity side, of a historical figure. There are many ways to approach the evidence, one of which would be the Bible, in which has been mentioned previously. However, after this brief introduction to the theological side of establishing history, and in an attempt to solidify our case, the use of the biblical text will be minimal, if not just in the above mentioned reference. The idea behind taking this approach is as if we are approaching a non- believer, that does not believe the Bible, or anyone else for that matter that may or may not believe the Bible, but has a view of Jesus that is not the historical Jesus being discussed.
1 Enns, Paul, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Publishers; Chicago IL, 2008
And besides, the majority of our sources for Jesus whatsoever are indeed the gospels contained within the Bible. So if one does not believe it, then we have numerous thoughts, or beliefs about Jesus. And, of course, this is exactly the reason we are told in Matthew 28: 19-20 “…to go and make disciples…” If we are not following two simple scriptures, 1 Peter 3:15 and Matthew 28:19-20, how would anyone know the Truth, or the truth, concerning the historical Jesus?
Apologetics and History
At this point it would seem appropriate, if not necessary to provide some information concerning The Quest for the Historical Jesus. “The beginning of the quest for the historical Jesus can be dated to 1774-78 when the poet Lessing published posthumously the lecture notes of Hermann Samuel Reimarus.”2 Much of what was in the notes discounted the Jesus of the NT, His claims of deity, any miracles, and the fact of His resurrection. This movement lead to a point in 1835, when the book Life of Christ by D.F. Strauss was published claiming the gospels were not historical and the entire story of Jesus was simply a myth. The quest died along the way, yet many other attempts have been made, and will probably continue to be made as they have since Jesus was actually here. “The major problem that faces any attempt to arrive at the “historical Jesus” involves the definition of the term “historical”. In critical circles the term is generally understood as “the product of the historical-critical method.” This method for many assumes a closed continuum of time and space in which divine intervention, i.e., the miraculous, cannot intrude.”3
2 Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edition, Baker Book House Company; Grand Rapids MI., 2001
It would appear that the definition accepted is just another way of trying to discount a historical Jesus. However, our intention does not stop at a mere definition in critical circles.
Bart Ehrman, opens his new book with the following lines, “Every week I receive two or three e-mails asking me whether Jesus existed as a human being. When I started getting these e-mails, some years ago now, I thought the question was rather peculiar and I did not take it seriously. Of course Jesus existed. Everyone knows he existed. Don’t they?”4 A self proclaimed agnostic scholar, who obviously knows the existence of Jesus is true, and historical. In our own quest for the historicity of Jesus, the statement from an agnostic scholar seemed appropriate place to begin our case.
The Bible, when accepted as a historical document is the most complete evidence of the historicity of Jesus. However since we are making our defense without the major use of scripture, one must begin to look for outside sources and facts.
“An astounding amount of information about Jesus of Nazareth can be drawn from ancient historians and government officials who were contemporaries of Jesus and who lived soon after Him.”5 We will begin by listing ancient historians, with a brief biography of each and then proceed to government officials following the same format. These sources confirm what the Bible states that not only was Jesus who He said He was, but a historical figure that changed the world. C. S. Lewis stated that Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or Lord, and here we will have shown He was and is historically Lord.
4 Ehrman, Bart, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/30/the-historical-evidence-of-the-existence-of-jesus-of-nazareth/ last accessed 05/25/2013
5 Hindson, Ed and Caner, Ergun, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR., 2008
“Tacitus was a first-century Roman historian; he is considered one of the most accurate historians of the ancient world.”6 Tacitus states that “Christus “suffered the extreme penalty” under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.”7
The chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian, made two important statements concerning Jesus of Nazareth one of which contained information about the persecutions after the great fire in Rome.
A Jewish revolutionist that transferred his allegiance to Rome in order to save his life. His work titled Antiquities gives several insights into Jesus of Nazareth.
A historian that wrote about the darkness after the crucifixion of Jesus. This gives support to the reliability of the book of Luke when discussing the darkness covering the land.
Pliny the Younger
A Roman administrator that wrote in a letter about numerous New Testament references.
7 Hindson, Ed and Caner, Ergun, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR., 2008
In response to Pliny the Younger, wrote how early Roman government viewed Christians.
There are both Gentile and Jewish sources also; the one that would deserve the most attention would be the Talmudic writings. They were written between AD 70 and 200 give many examples about Jesus.
We have shown, with the majority being of non Christian sources, that Jesus was a historical figure. The evidence strongly supports the case for establishing the historicity of Jesus.