If someone existed in antiquity and if that person were to leave a mark, we should expect it to be in the historical record. From Caesar, to Plato, to Herodotus, to Josephus, and to Jesus we see this. In fact, we can know a good few things about the Jesus of history that people so love, or so love to hate. Either way, love him or hate him, we are able to know quite a bit about him, as we will see in this article.
1. That Jesus is a very well attested figure, especially for the 1st Century.
No scholar in the fields of relevant expertise doubts Jesus’ existence. Based on my research I don’t either. In fact Jesus is, for a 1st century figure, very well attested in an abundance of independent source that go back to the earliest Christian Palestinian communities. So what is some of this evidence that makes Jesus such a very well attested figure?
Firstly, Jesus was crucified by 30 AD, and by the end of the 1st century we have four full independent accounts (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) on Jesus based on early traditions that were circulating in different very early Palestinian Christian communities. Sources that date 40 – 60 years after the described events are very early by historical comparison (please see my other short article on this point), on this theme Mike Licona, a prominent New Testament historian, comments:
“A gap of sixty to seventy years between the writing and the events they purport to describe is quite early compared to what historians work with when it comes to other ancient biographies.”
In a similar spirit Mike Bird, who is on the editorial board for the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, notes:
“Paul’s letters are written about 20-30 years after Jesus’ death, and the Gospels about 50-70 years after his death. Our oldest piece of papyrus with a fragment of John 18 is P25 and is dated to about 125-150 CE. Authors like Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus from the late first and early second century wrote about Jesus too. That sounds pretty early to me, at least in comparison to other historical figures.”
Gary Habermas, perhaps one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 21st century writes:
“With regard to the historical Jesus, any material between 30 and 50 AD would be exemplary, a time period highly preferred by scholars like those in the Jesus Seminar.”
Furthermore, behind these early Gospels completed by the end of the 1st century we find more accounts in the forms of Q, M, L, and a pre-Markan formula. Q, M, L are sources that the Gospels authors themselves consulted but are no longer in existence (the papyrus likely wore out after multiple uses), however, it has become apparent to scholars that such sources were once in existence.
In a nutshell, the Q source is pre-Gospel account that Luke and Matthew had used for a handful of narratives. L was a source the Gospel author of Luke consulted for some narratives that are not found in Mark, or Q – the author inherited via using L source early and independent traditions. The same applies for the M source, it is a source that the Gospel author Matthew seemed to have used.
Secondly, it has become obvious to scholars that Mark, our earliest Gospel completed by 70 AD (40 years after Jesus’ death) used a pre-Markan source for his passion narrative. It is also thought that the pre-Marken account could have even been based on eyewitness testimony, as New Testament scholar and leading philosopher William Lane Craig says in an interview:
“That Mark was using and relied upon a pre-Markan passion story is one that is widely accepted by most scholars today, and because it goes back so early it is probably based upon eyewitness testimony.”
Regarding John’s Gospel (our latest one coming in around 90-95 AD) scholars also seem to note that John’s author used additional, earlier sources. As Bart Ehrman, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars, explains:
“But scholars have long suspected that John had at his disposal an earlier written account of Jesus’ miracles (the so-called Signs Source), at least two accounts of Jesus’s long speeches (the Discourse Sources), and possibly another passion source as well.”
This is very good data already, and that’s not even it yet. What more validates Jesus’ historicity is that Q, M, L, pre-Mark, pre-John, all of which predate the Gospel accounts, could have been multiple sources themselves (oral, written, or combination). So, perhaps we are dealing with 12 earlier sources that make up Q, M, L, pre-Mark, and pre-John of which the Gospel authors consulted in writing their own independent accounts. In fact, this is highly probable as we find the author of Luke writing in his introduction to his Gospel:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Luke 1:1-3)
Secondly, we also find Aramaic (the language of Jesus) traditions evident in the New Testament literature. The Gospels were originally written in Greek, yet various passages are left in the Aramaic, the language that Jesus would have spoken. These traditions date to the early years of the Christian movement before it would have expanded into the Greek speaking areas. For this reason the Gospel authors would have had to translate these Aramaic texts for their readers. We see this in the episode where Jesus is begged by Jairus, the father of a very ill girl, to heal his daughter, of which Jesus agrees to do. But before Jesus gets to her she dies. However, Jesus still goes to the girl, grabs her hand, and says: “Talitha cumi.”
These are Aramaic words, the language of Jesus, of which Mark translates for his readers: “Little girl, I say to you rise.”
This tells us that this narrative was originally told in Aramaic, but then translated into Greek. Another clear example would be when Jesus was on the cross he cried out: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani!” (Mark 15:34). In John’s Gospel this same thing occurs a few more times (John 1:35-52).
This indicates to us that these narratives go back to the earliest moments of the Christian movement.
Thirdly, we have creeds. A creed is specific tradition or source that is dated much earlier than the text in which it is written – the most well-known creed is 1 Corinthians 15 that is dated within 5 years of Jesus’ death even though the letter comes about 20 or so years after the event.
Paul, our earliest writer, knew of Jesus and even met his brother James, and Jesus’ favourite disciple Peter – Paul writes about Jesus in 7 letters he authored to several early churches. For a historian there is no better historical data than that, this is as close to eyewitness testimony that we will ever get – the fact that Paul met Jesus’ brother James, and his most intimate disciple Peter.
Subsequently, we find more independent traditions within a document called Egerton 2, as well as the non-Biblical accounts of the Gospel of Thomas (which contains 114 sayings of Jesus), and the Gospel of Peter. In addition we have more independent sources of 1+2 John, 1+2 Peter, Hebrews, Revelation, and 1 Timothy – these additional sources stem from separate areas within 1st Century Palestine and house early independent traditions. Within the book of Acts we have speeches, and oral traditions that precede all of our Gospels.
So, before the 1st century is even completed we have a plethora of independent sources corroborating Jesus’ existence. Not only that, within these sources we find earlier traditions, oral, written or combination, that go all the way back to within a year or two of the events of Jesus’ death. So, we have: Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Thomas, Peter, Egerton 2, Q, L, M, pre-Mark, pre-John 1+2 John, 1+2 Peter, Hebrews, Revelation, and 1 Timothy documenting Jesus in independent traditions.
Such, other than a digital photograph or a video recording, is the best types of evidence in independent traditions historical scholars will ever find corroborating a historical figure. We have over 20 independent sources on Jesus’ life by the time the 1st century ends.
But, that’s not it. We haven’t even included the 17 additional secular sources mentioning Jesus. This list of sources above excludes other sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Serapion, Lucian, and early Christian church fathers: Papias, Ignatius, and Clement, Gnostic Gospels, Jewish Talmud. My opinion is that not all of these 17 additional sources contain what we are looking for; some of these sources surely contain hearsay information, but some others do not.
So, in a total we are looking at over 37 pieces of independent sources on which gives us information about the historical Jesus.
On such an abundance of sources Paul Maier, Professor of Ancient History, remarks:
“The total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”
2. That history testifies to Jesus being a miracle worker:
The historical record shows us that Jesus was a miracle worker. In fact, there is no reason to reject this, yet the reason secular scholars reject Jesus’ miracles is because of philosophical presuppositions, and anti-supernatural bias, not because of historical method. If this is true, which history attests that it is, then this has significant implications for naturalists – Jesus, himself, defies their worldview, hence as John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician noted in a debate: “That is just too much of a price for some to pay.”
Craig Evans, a specialist in historical Jesus’ studies, Dead Sea scrolls, early Christianity, and textual criticism notes that: “It is no longer seriously contested that miracles played a role in Jesus’s ministry.”
New Testament scholar Gary Habermas on this point writes:
“Several important examples might be provided. Of the five sources often recognized in the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ miracles are reported in all five, with some specific occurrences reported in more than one. Jesus’ crucial “Son of Man” sayings are also attested in all five Gospel sources. And the empty tomb is reported in at least three, if not four, of these Gospel sources. This helps to understand why these items are taken so seriously by contemporary critical scholars.”
Even perhaps the most sceptical of scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries, Rudolf Bultmann, noted in 1926: “Most of the miracle stories contained in the gospels are legendary or at least are dressed up with legends. But there can be no doubt that Jesus did such deeds, which were, in his and his contemporaries’ understanding, miracles, that is, deeds that were the result of supernatural, divine causality. Doubtless he healed the sick and cast out demons.”
Graham Stanton, a widely respected New Testament scholar at King’s College London, notes: “Few doubt that Jesus possessed unusual gifts as a healer, though of course varied explanations are offered.”
Jesus’ miracles are historically attested in independent sources and traditions. History testifies that he was a miracle worker, and scholars are stretched in all directions to explain this. Some, who are unsympathetic towards Christianity, conclude that the evidence is compelling, Jesus was a miracle worker.
3. That Jesus thought of himself more than human:
Jesus’ favourite self-designation was the Son of Man. We have Jesus referring to himself in this way in our earliest Gospel, Mark, as well as in the other Gospels. But what is meant by Jesus saying this?
Jesus is referred to as the “Son of Man” 88 times in the New Testament. A first meaning of the phrase “Son of Man” is as a reference to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14, it reads:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Here the description “Son of Man” is a Messianic title. Jesus is the one who was given dominion, glory and a kingdom by God, so whenever he used this phrase, he was assigning the Son of Man prophecy to Himself. In other words, according to Jesus he will one day come in the clouds of heaven, that he is given sovereign power and authority over all people, nations and languages. They will worship him, and his kingdom will be eternal, and thus never be destroyed.
Jesus refers to himself multiple times in independent sources: Mark 8:31-32:38, Mark 2:27-28, Mark 8:11-13, Mark 10:32-34, Matthew 20:17-19, Matthew 8:20, Matthew 12:8, Matthew 12:38-42, Matthew 13:37,41-42, Luke 18:31-34, Luke 6:5, Luke 9:58, Luke 11:29-32 – this list is not exhaustive.
Leading Jesus scholar and New Testament historian Craig Evans sees this:
“… and so the consensus is, look, Jesus existed, he was Jewish, he wasn’t out to break the law. He was out to fulfill it. Jesus understood himself as the Lord’s anointed, that is as the Messiah.”
Scholar P. J. Tomson forwards that: “Although he apparently considered himself the heavenly ‘Son of Man’ and ‘the beloved son’ of God and cherished far-reaching Messianic ambitions, Jesus was equally reticent about these convictions. Even so, the fact that, after his death and resurrection, his disciples proclaimed him as the Messiah can be understood as a direct development from his own teachings.”
William Lane Craig, a leading philosopher and New Testament scholar in his article‘Rediscovering The Historical Jesus’ writes:
“Jesus’s self-concept as God’s son comes to explicit expression in Matthew 11.27: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”
C.S. Lewis, best known for his essays on Christianity and for the fantasy series ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’. Even as of now, almost 50 years after his death, Lewis’ writings are still among the most widely read and discussed within Christian communities. On top of this Lewis was also an avid scholar in medieval literature, and was one such man that was certainly well versed in the skill of writing. Regarding Jesus he comments:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
In other words Jesus hasn’t left us with many options of which to choose from. We either take him as he is, or we reject him. There is no in-between, Jesus was not just a teacher, and he certainly thought of himself as something more. C.S. Lewis in his day saw this clearly.
So in essence, we have Jesus being a miracle worker (in the point above) of which history testifies to, and on top of this we have Jesus thinking that he was divine. Jesus is matching up to be a very unique and influential person of history. Perhaps it is wise to give his claims a closer look.
4. That Jesus lead a ministry:
Scholars are confident that Jesus had a ministry. Obviously, it would follow that if Jesus taught he would likely have some sort of following whether big or small, and that therefore, he would have a ministry of sorts. Prominent New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders opines:
”Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain. Despite this, we have a good idea of the main lines of his ministry and his message. We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. ….. the dominant view [among scholars] today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.””
Another scholar Amy-Jill Levine, a Professor of New Testament Studies, in her work ‘The Historical Jesus in Context’ notes: “there is a consensus of sorts on the basic outline of Jesus’ life” in that most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and over a period of one to three years debated Jewish authorities on the subject of God, gathered followers, and was crucified by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate who officiated 26–36 AD.”
It is the majority consensus among scholars that Jesus was a Galilean, that his activities were confined to Galilee and Judea, and after his death his disciples continued. Some of his disciples were persecuted. Such a view is maintained by Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans in ‘Authenticating the Activities of Jesus’, two very prominent scholars who have written on the historical Jesus.
5. That Jesus was baptized:
The vast majority of scholars in the relevant fields of expertise believe that John the Baptist performed a baptism on Jesus in the Jordan River; scholars hold this view with a high degree of certainty. Jesus’ baptism and his crucifixion according to James Dunn “command almost universal assent”. Dunn goes on to say that these two facts “rank so high on the ‘almost impossible to doubt or deny’ scale of historical facts.” What we find are various independent sources corroborating the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
For instance, Josephus Flavius, a 1st century Jewish/Roman historian in his work the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ writes about John the Baptist and his death in Perea. Josephus also attests to John’s execution by Herod Antipas which is further independently attested in the Gospels. Josephus references John’s popularity among the crowds (Ant 18.5.2).
Within the four Gospel accounts we find this event attested in Mark 1:10, Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22, John 1:32. Also in Acts 10:37-38 we find it mentions Jesus’ baptism, as Peter reports “the baptism which John preached.” It is important to note that Matthew and Luke used Mark’s earlier Gospel as a source, so we have two independent sources (Mark, John) plus Acts. From the New Testament canon we have three independent sources attesting to the baptism.
It is also held that the baptism is reported in the Q document. This is a no longer existing document that both Matthew and Luke consulted for some of their narratives. Q document, along with L source, M source, pre-Marken source could all have been multiple sources themselves – if so, then we are dealing with a plethora of independently attested historical sources. Scholar Robert Webb, a prominent theologian, on this point writes:
”…the weight of the evidence leads me to a conclusion of probability: the text of Q most likely contained an account of Jesus’ baptism and the theophany.”
What further has convinced scholars in the field of Jesus’ baptism is that it passes the criterion of embarrassment. This, with a host of other types, is a criteria scholars apply to the New Testament literature to separate the historical from the invented or non-historical. Baptism was seen by the early Christians as the washing away of sins, yet the early Christians also saw Jesus as sinless. Therefore, Jesus’ baptism is not something the early Christians would invent precisely for that reason. In the case of Jesus’ baptism it passes the criterion of embarrassment.
So in essence, Jesus’ baptism is multiply attested in seven historical sources: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Q, and Josephus. Of those seven sources, five of them are independent. On top of that Jesus’ baptism also passes the criterion of embarrassment, therefore making it more likely historical than not.
Even the scholar Dominic Crossan, of the radical Jesus Seminar, in his book ‘Who Is Jesus?’ states that it is historically certain that Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan River. Jesus’ baptism is further supported by Thomas Rausch (Who is Jesus?), Catherine Murphy (John the Baptist: prophet of purity for a new age), Delbert Royce Burkett (An introduction to the New Testament and the origins of Christianity), and by and Daniel Dapaah (The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth: A Critical Study).
Webb concludes: “…within the realms of historical probability, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. As such, the baptism was for Jesus a significant turning point in his life, from his former life as a peasant artisan in Nazareth to a life of ministry.”
6. That Jesus thought he could forgive sins:
Jesus thought that he could forgive sins, as only God could do, and this would put him on equal footing with Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Jesus gives us his mission and purpose of why he came to Earth: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
On this point New Testament scholar Robert Grant writes: “Jesus introduced a very singular innovation. For he also claimed that he himself could forgive sins.”
In Mark 2:1-12 Jesus forgives a paralyzed man: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus also forgives a woman in Luke 7:48, and in Mark 2:10 says:
“But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
We find that Jesus tells Paul in his radical conversion in Acts 26:15-18: “that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
At the last supper we read: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Even the Jews accused Jesus of blaspheming in Matthew 9:3. We read:
“Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts asked, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?”
So, we have independent attestation in the four Gospels of Jesus forgiving sins. We see that Jesus thought he could forgive sins, that the Jews tried to stone him for doing so, and that it was his mission to call “sinners to repentance.” We can be historically certain that Jesus forgave sins.
7. That Jesus predicted his imminent death:
Jesus predicted his death and resurrection before it would occur on multiple occasions. We find this clearly conveyed in Mark 9:30–3, Matthew 16:21–28, Luke 9:22–27, and John 13-17. This is what led another leading New Testament historian Maurice Casey to state quite plainly: “Jesus predicted his death and resurrection.”
John Piper, a well know theologian who did his doctoral work in New Testament Studies at the University of Munich:
“Our first evidence of the resurrection, therefore, is that Jesus himself spoke of it. The breadth and nature of the sayings make it unlikely that a deluded church made these up. And the character of Jesus himself, revealed in these witnesses, has not been judged by most people to be a lunatic or a deceiver.”
Of course many scholars who do not believe that Jesus was divine in some sense will reject this. Many of these scholars do so for anti-supernatural bias, and to them Jesus was just a man, he could be no more than that, in their view. Such scholars attribute Jesus’ prediction to a later Christian interpolation.
8. That Jesus thought his death was important:
If the Christian message is true, then there is nothing more important in human history than that of Jesus’ death on the cross to atone for mankind’s sins. This is the view that Jesus had; he knew that he had to die to make man once again right with God. In Matthew 16:21 we see Jesus’ position on this point:
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”
Scholar Maurice Casey writes that: “He believed that his death would fulfill the will of God for the redemption of his people Israel.”
Robert Grant. Professor Emeritus of Humanities and of New Testament and Early Christianity, gives us Jesus’ self-concept in a nutshell:
“Jesus lived his last days, and died, in the belief that his death was destined to save the human race.”
Certainly we cannot fault his sincerity, Jesus really believed this.
9. That Jesus was crucified:
Perhaps one of the best attested facts about Jesus is that he was crucified. There are many independent sources that attest to Jesus’ crucifixion. So many in fact that it is beyond doubt that Jesus really died on a cross. According to James Dunn the crucifixion is of the “two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent” and that it “rank[s] so high on the ‘almost impossible to doubt or deny’ scale of historical facts.”
Bart Ehrman, a leading sceptical New Testament historian, writes in his article ‘Why Kill Jesus’: “The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we have about his life.”
Furthermore, we find that all four independent canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) attesting to this fact. We also find that Mark, our earliest Gospel, utilized a Pre-Markan passion narrative source about Jesus’ last week, and his crucifixion.
We also find Serapion, in his letter, refers to the crucifixion of the “wise king”, it is the majority scholarly opinion that Jesus is the one being referred to here. Robert Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament Studies, sees little doubt that the reference to the execution of the “king of the Jews” is about the death of Jesus. Also, Bruce Chilton, scholar of early Christianity and Judaism states that Serapion’s reference to the “king of Jews” may be related to the inscription on the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark (15:26).
Josephus Flavius refers to Jesus’ crucifixion very vividly, “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross.”
Cornelius Tacitus in his work refers to Jesus’ crucifixion. Eddy and Boyd state that it is now “firmly established” that Tacitus provides a non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus.
We find that the Jewish Talmud says that “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (Jesus) was hanged.” (Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a)
Lucian of Samosata, in his satirical composition ‘The Passing of Peregrinus’ which very much mocks Christian belief, notes:
“The poor fools have persuaded themselves above all that they are immortal and will live forever, from which it follows that they despise death and many of them willingly undergo imprisonment. Moreover, their first lawgiver taught them that they are all brothers of one another, when once they have sinned by denying the Greek gods, and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws.”
We also find that the early Church fathers Papias, Ignatius, 1 Clement believed that Jesus was crucified on a cross. These three early church fathers of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries had ties to the original apostles of Jesus, and their companions of whom testified to Jesus’ death.
Furthermore, Jesus even predicted his imminent death at least four different times Mark 9:30–3, Matthew 16:21–28, Luke 9:22–27, and John 13-17. This is what led another leading New Testament historian Maurice Casey to state quite plainly: “Jesus predicted his death and resurrection.”
Paul in his epistles to the early churches also attests to this. Of all people Paul would know this especially after he met with Jesus’ brother James, and Jesus’ favourite disciple Peter. All three attest to the fact of Jesus’ death by crucifixion.
Alongside the Gospel of Luke, we also find the crucifixion mentioned in the book of Acts. Acts is our most comprehensive narrative on the historical movements of the early church after Jesus’ death. Acts reports: “When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in the tomb” and “When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in the tomb.”
William Lane Craig summarizes much of the data:
“From Josephus and Tacitus, we learn that Jesus was crucified by Roman authority under the sentence of Pontius Pilate. From Josephus and Mara bar Serapion we learn that the Jewish leaders made a formal accusation against Jesus and participated in events leading up to his crucifixion. And from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, we learn that Jewish involvement in the trial was explained as a proper undertaking against a heretic
We have Jesus’ crucifixion independently attested in Paul, Mark, pre-Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Jewish Talmud, church fathers. This is why, for a multitude of reasons, no credible historian rejects that Jesus was crucified, and why even John Crossan, member of the radical Jesus Seminar, notes:
“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”
Also, Gerd Ludemann, an atheist New Testament scholar writes in his work ‘The Resurrection of Christ‘: “Jesus’ death as a result of crucifixion is indisputable.”
10. That Jesus was buried in a tomb:
According to John A.T. Robinson of Cambridge University: “the [Burial is] earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”
This is a scholarly view also held by N. T. Wright in his book ‘The Challenge of Easter’, and that the burial of Christ is part of the earliest Gospel traditions. Even atheist Jeffrey Lowder, who writes for the Secular Web and his president of Internet Infidels, notes: “the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea has a high final probability.”
Raymond Brown, a once prominent specialist in the Gospel of John and in New Testament studies, writes that:
“Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus.”
The German historian of religion Martin Hengel notes in ‘Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus’ that Jesus was buried in disgrace as an executed criminal who died a shameful death. Also, leading New Testament historian Gary Habermas who has reviewed over 3400 articles relevant to this subject, he writes:
“My bibliography is presently at about 3400 sources and counting, published originally in French, German, or English. Initially I read and catalogued the majority of these publications, charting the representative authors, positions, topics, and so on, concentrating on both well-known and obscure writers alike, across the entire skeptical to liberal to conservative spectrum.”
According to this analysis the empty tomb is accepted by approximately 75% of the scholars in the field. Habermas writes in his article ‘The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus’ that there are many reasons for accepting the empty tomb as historical:
“Further, Licona also mentions that my research specifies 23 reasons that favor the historicity of the empty tomb.”
Finally Michael Grant concedes that: “the historian… cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb” and that “the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.”
11. That Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty:
It is of the vast consensus of scholars within the relevant fields of expertise that Jesus’ tomb somehow got empty. This leaves many sceptics forwarding obviously contrived theories to explain it away. One would need to explain how Jesus’ tomb became empty, and then why the disciples, and the sceptics James, and Paul claimed that he appeared to them. Not just that he appeared to them, but 500 others too, as Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians. This is something they were martyred for, not once did they recant their faith that Jesus’ had appeared to them – whatever the case, they certainly believed it. The obvious question is then how did Jesus’ tomb become empty?
The Austrian scholar Jacob Kremer writes: “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”
D. H. van Daalen makes this point more vividly: “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.”
William Lane Craig gives us why he thinks the empty tomb is likely given the context:
“In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus says that women weren’t even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law. Now in light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb.”
N.T. Wright, another world leading scholar of New Testament studies is honest in his brief remark: “That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”
William Lane Craig concludes: “Taken together these eight considerations furnish powerful evidence that the tomb of Jesus was actually found empty on Sunday morning by a small group of his women followers. As a plain historical fact this seems to be amply attested.”
12. That the resurrection of Jesus was an early, not a later, belief:
This is nowhere more evident than in the writing of Paul. There is a very early tradition cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.3-5 that implies the fact of the empty tomb, which in turn implies that the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus was raised from the dead. Paul writes that Jesus “was buried and that he was raised”.
Paul even gives more information to us. In it he tells us that Jesus appeared to his chief disciple Peter, then to the inner circle of disciples known as the Twelve; then he appeared to a group of 500 disciples at once, then to his younger brother James, who up to that time was apparently not a believer, then to all the apostles. Finally, Paul adds, “he appeared also to me,” at the time when Paul was still a persecutor of the early Jesus movement.
In fact, the prominent New Testament scholar James Dunn dates this very creed of Paul back to within 18 months of Jesus’ death. Even on the more sceptical end, this creed is dated no later than five years after Jesus’ death on the cross. That is extraordinarily early, and is something that New Testament scholar Mike Licona says, “…is what historians drool over.”
Gary Habermas, a prominent New Testament historian, writes:
”Reports from such an early date would actually predate the written Gospels. A famous example is the list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances supplied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement is based is dated to the 30s AD.”
In fact, this was the very early belief that Paul was executing and persecuting the early Christians in the years 31-33 AD for in the first place. To Paul, anyone to claim that somebody was God’s anointed one, in this case Jesus, after he was pinned to a cross was the height of blasphemy.
In concluding, atheist New Testament scholar from Germany Gerd Ludemann notes: “the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years…the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 C.E.”
13. That Paul had a radical experience of Jesus:
Paul was a rigid Jew of the 1st century. In fact, he was so committed to this belief that when the early Christians around 31-33 AD, a year or two after Jesus died, were proclaiming that he was raised from the dead, he personally persecuted, and executed them. We read concerning Paul:
“Saul [this was Paul’s name before he became a Christian after Jesus appeared to him] was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
We also read in Acts 7.57 – 8:1: “they all rushed at him (Stephen), dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. . . . And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”
After Stephen was martyred, Saul went door to door in Jerusalem finding people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah: “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3).
After putting these people in prison, Paul (Saul) found out that the Christian prisoners were sending letters to others in Damascus:
“I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5).
But then something extraordinary happened to Paul (Saul) as he travelled to Damascus in search of more Christians to execute and persecute. According to him, God appeared to him in an unexpected way:
“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, `Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ” `Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “`I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. ” `What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. ” `Get up,’ the Lord said, `and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me” (Acts 22:6-11).
We see that after this radical encounter Paul changed dramatically: “At once he (Saul of Tarsus) began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:20-22).
On this point Mike Licona, a leading New Testament scholar, finds Paul’s conversion interesting:
“Paul’s conversion is especially interesting because he was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred. Therefore Jesus’ resurrection is reported not only by his friends but also by at least someone who was a vehement foe at the time of the experience. Paul’s belief that he had witnessed the risen Christ was so strong that he, like the original disciples, was willing to suffer continuously for the sake of the gospel, even to the point of martyrdom.”
Even the world’s leading sceptical New Testament historian Bart Ehrman writes: “It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection.”
What to make of Paul’s radical change, I will leave up to the reader to decide.
14. That the disciples experienced the risen Jesus:
It is accepted by the vast majority of scholars that Jesus’ followers thought that he was raised from the dead. Their willingness to die for such a belief shows us that they really believed this. This is especially convincing as these very disciples were the ones who knew Jesus personally and were with him at that very time and place – this was not something that they inherited 500 years later – they were there, and they saw it.
Quite amazingly Gerd Ludemann, a prominent German New Testament scholar and atheist, writes:
“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
E.P. Sanders, another prominent scholar of New Testament scholars, notes:
“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause.”
Bart Ehrman on this point opines:
“It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death” and that:
“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that … he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.”
Even Rudolf Bultmann, perhaps the world’s leading sceptical New Testament scholar of the 20th century, once noted: “All that historical criticism can establish is that the first disciples came to believe the resurrection.”
E.P. Sanders concludes: “Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it.”
15. That Jesus’ brother James was martyred:
Like many others that Jesus encountered who had rejected him, Jesus’ family and his brother James also did so (Mark 3:21). However, later when Jesus appeared to his brother James, like Paul, he ended up leading the early church, and was eventually martyred for his belief. This we have historical evidence for.
Firstly, according to a passage found ‘Antiquities of the Jews’, a history of the Jews authored by the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus Flavius we read: “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus but before Lucceius Albinus had assumed office.” (Antiquities 20,9)
Secondly, the church father Origen who consulted the works of Josephus around 248 AD, also related an account of the death of James. On this point, John Painter in his book ‘Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition’ notes:
“Origen twice asserts that Josephus said that the destruction of Jerusalem occurred because of what was done to James. The argument was that the destruction was a consequence of divine retribution because of what was done to James.” Also, Wataru Mizugaki, in ‘Origen and Josephus’:
“Origen appreciates Josephus by noting that he has ‘researched on the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple’ and concludes that Josephus is ‘not far from the truth’ in concluding that the reason for the calamity was the assassination of James the Just by the Jews.”
The church historian Eusebius, also quotes Josephus’ account, but in addition records the lost passages from Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria, concerning James’ death. Nevertheless, according to Hegesippus (110 – 180 AD):
“To the scribes’ and Pharisees’ dismay, James boldly testified that “Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven” and:
“… threw down the just man… [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: “I beseech thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
We can be fairly certain that James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred for his testimony. Regarding James, as well as the other disciples of Jesus, Mike Licona writes:
“The disciples’ willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs indicates that they certainly regarded those beliefs as true. The case is strong that they did not wilfully lie about the appearances of the risen Jesus. Liars make poor martyrs.”
16. That Jesus had a mother called Mary:
It is said that Mary is the mother of Jesus. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we find that they tell us that she was a virgin, and that she gave a miraculous birth to Jesus without impregnation from any man, including her husband Joseph.
We find that Mary is independently attested in the Gospel accounts. She is mentioned most often in the Gospel of Luke who identifies Mary by her name 12 times, all of which can be seen in the infancy narrative. (Luke: 1:27,30,34,38,39,41,46,56; 2:5,16,19,34)
In Matthew’s Gospel we see that he mentions Mary by name five times (1:16,18,20; 2:11), four times in the infancy, and once outside of the infancy narrative. (13:55)
In Mark’s Gospel she is named once (6:3), and he again mentions her, not by name, in Mark 3:31.
The last Gospel, John, mentions Mary twice but never mentions her by name. John describes her as Jesus’ mother, and makes two appearances in his Gospel.
The book of Acts, another of Luke’s writing that follows on from his Gospel of Luke, Mary and the “brothers of Jesus” are mentioned in the company of the Eleven who are gathered in the upper room after the Ascension.
We can learn a bit more about Mary from the Gospels, but we can be certain that she was Jesus’ mother, and that this is embedded into the independent traditions of the four Gospel accounts. She saw her son crucified on the Roman cross.
17. That Jesus was unprecedented, and unique – not a copy of pagan religions:
Today just about every scholar in the relevant historical specializations unanimously rejects the notion that Jesus is a copy of pagan gods. However, this whole pagan debacle is rearing its head in amateurish circles. Jesus was unique, and it seems that the available evidence that we have makes this position well supported. Regarding that Jesus is a pagan copy, T.N.D Mettinger of Lund University opines:
“There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct…”
Warner Wallace, a former homicide detective, of Cold Case Christianity writes:
“The more you examine the nature of the gods who were worshiped before Jesus, the more you will notice their dissimilarities and the dishonesty of trying to compare them to the historical Jesus.”
Professor Ronald Nash, a prominent philosopher and theologian notes in his writing ‘Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?‘:
“Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth—at least during its early stages.”
Nash then goes on to say, “Today most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue.”
Another leading New Testament scholar Craig Keener writes: “When you make the comparisons, you end up with a whole lot more differences than you do similarities.”
J.Z. Smith, a historian of religion and Hellenistic religious scholar writes:
“The idea of dying and rising gods is largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.”
Michael Bird, who is on the editorial board for the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, as well is a Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, clearly shows his annoyance when he writes:
“Now I am normally a cordial and collegial chap, but to be honest, I have little time or patience to invest in debunking the wild fantasies of “Jesus mythicists”, as they are known. That is because, to be frank, those of us who work in the academic profession of religion and history simply have a hard time taking them seriously.”
Lastly, James Dunn in his article on Myth in the ‘Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels‘, writes: “Myth is a term of at least doubtful relevance to the study of Jesus and the Gospels.”
18. That the Jews don’t like him:
This is most evident in Paul’s writing where he confirms that he persecuted the early Christians around 32/33 AD for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus’ death on the cross was so despicable to Paul, and to many other Jews, that he viewed these early Christians as severe blasphemers, and hence his reason for executing and persecuting them. Anyone who was crucified, according to Jewish belief, is under condemnation from God, therefore Jesus, in Paul’s eyes, could not be the long awaited Messiah that the Jews were expecting to come at the end of history. It took something radical for him to change his ways.
The Pharisees by no means had a high view of Jesus either, in fact it was them that eventually got him pinned to the cross. The Roman authority only consented to their wishes. In the Gospel traditions we see this hate coming through; these Pharisees certainly were threatened and appalled by Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus in John 8:59 claimed to be equal with God, we read: “ Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” When Jesus said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) the Jews again picked up stones again to stone Him.
In Matthew 12:14 we read that the Jews were planning to kill him: “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.” In our earliest Gospel we read: “Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.” (Mark 14:1) In Luke 22:2: “and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.”
Basically wherever Jesus went the Pharisees wanted to kill him, and they even to tried and trap him in his own words, and thus enable them to accuse him of blasphemy. In Matthew 22:15 we read: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.” And that: “Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement.” (Mark 12:13). Also in Luke 11:54 the Pharisees were “waiting to catch him in something he might say.”
Another piece of evidence comes from the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud is an ancient record of Jewish history, laws, and rabbinic teachings compiled throughout the centuries, and makes several references to Jesus. The Talmud states in Sanhedrin 43a that, “Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray”, we also read that:
“Jesus the Nazarene was hanged and a herald went forth before him forty days heralding, Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and instigated and seduced Israel to idolatry. Whoever knows anything in defense may come and state it.” But since they did not find anything in his defense they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover.”
In Sanhedrin 107 we are told that Jesus (“Yeshu”) “offended his teacher by paying too much attention to the inn-keeper’s wife. Jesus wished to be forgiven, but [his rabbi] was too slow to forgive him, and Jesus in despair went away and put up a brick [idol] and worshipped it.”
Furthermore, the following, according to scholars, refers to Jesus within the Talmud:
-Jesus as a sorcerer with disciples (b Sanh 43a-b)
-Healing in the name of Jesus (Hul 2:22f; AZ 2:22/12; y Shab 124:4/13; QohR 1:8; b AZ 27b)
-As a torah teacher (b AZ 17a; Hul 2:24; QohR 1:8)
-As a son or disciple that turned out badly (Sanh 103a/b; Ber 17b)
-As a frivolous disciple who practiced magic and turned to idolatry (Sanh 107b; Sot 47a)
-Jesus’ punishment in afterlife (b Git 56b, 57a)
-Jesus’ execution (b Sanh 43a-b)
-Jesus as the son of Mary (Shab 104b, Sanh 67a)
The Talmud is a significant source as it is particularly hostile to Jesus, and accuses him of all sorts of crimes. As I noted above such is seen in the Pharisees during Jesus’ day – they did not like him very much, and the Talmud only confirms this. As a historical confirmation nothing better than affirmation in a hostile source to provide proof of the historicity of an event, or person of history.
19. That Jesus faced intense rejection:
Not only where Pharisees trying to kill him and to catch him in his words, but Jesus also experienced intense rejection.
We find that Jesus’ family rejects him, even his brother James turned away. Yet later James ends up leading the early church after Jesus allegedly appeared to him, this of course results in James being martyred for his faith in Jesus. What could have caused him to make such a drastic change?
In John 1:11 we read that his hometown rejected him: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”
In Matthew 8:34: “And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region” and in Mark 8:34: “Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.”
We also find out that many were offended by Jesus: “And he went out from thence, and came into his own country … And they were offended at him” (Mark 6:13). As a result of this in Luke 7:23 Jesus replies: “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
In Mark 3:30 Jesus was also accused of having an “… impure spirit.” And the “teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.””
In Mark 3:21 we see Jesus’ own family charging him: “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.””
At another time many disciples left Jesus (John 6:66-67): “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian and participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism, this was a position of which resulted in him being hanged, once noted:
“Death on the cross means to suffer and to die as one rejected and cast out. It was by divine necessity that Jesus had to suffer and be rejected.”
20. That after his radical conversion, Paul died for the belief that Jesus had appeared to him:
Also, it is rather amazing that Paul, who persecuted and executed the early Christians, became a leading Christian himself. Why? Because Christ appeared to him, and later he had his head decapitated by the Romans for his belief that Christ really did appear to him. We certainly can’t fault his sincerity.
We read in 2 Timothy 4:6–8 that Paul seems to be anticipating his soon demise: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
This letter comes from his second Roman imprisonment in 64-67 AD.
Although Paul’s death is not recorded in the New Testament we find the early church father Ignatius, probably writing around 110, notes that Paul was martyred. Ignatius was also connected personally to the disciples – this would mean he would have first-hand testimony to Paul’s death. Ignatius writes in Chapter XII. – Praise of the Ephesians:
“Ye are initiated into the mysteries of the Gospel with Paul, the holy, the martyred, the deservedly most happy, at whose feet may I be found…”
Similarly to Ignatius we have First Clement (AD 95) who was most likely a disciple of Peter, Peter probably died around the same time as Paul. In 1 Clement Chapter 5 we read:
“Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.”
Furthermore, Eusebius, the well-known church historian of the 4th century, claimed that Paul was beheaded at the order of the Roman emperor Nero or one of his subordinates.
According to William Smith in ‘Smith’s Bible Dictionary’ he writes regarding Paul:
“For what remains, we have the concurrent testimony of ecclesiastical antiquity, that he was beheaded at Rome, about the same time that St. Peter was crucified there. The earliest allusion to the death of St. Paul is in that sentence from Clemens Romanus… which just fails of giving us any particulars upon which we can conclusively rely. The next authorities are those quoted by Eusebius in his H. E. ii. 25. Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (A. D. 170), says that Peter and Paul went to Italy and taught there together, and suffered martyrdom about the same time. This, like most of the statements relating to the death of St. Paul, is mixed up with the tradition, with which we are not here immediately concerned, of the work of St. Peter at Rome.”
21. That Jesus was a Jewish man:
It is broad agreement among scholars that Jesus was a Jew of 1st century Palestine. The view that Jesus was a Jew is supported by Bart Ehrman in his work ‘Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium’ (1998), Joseph Stoutzenberger in ‘Celebrating sacraments’ (2000), and Murphy Frederick in his book ‘The religious world of Jesus: an introduction to Second Temple Palestinian Judaism.’ (1991)
Although we do not know what Jesus looked like as the New Testament is silent on it, James Charlesworth, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, notes: “[he] most likely dark brown and sun-tanned, and his stature may have been between five feet five [1.65 m] and five feet seven”.
22. That Jesus lived, and taught in Galilee:
Green, McKnight & Marshall in their ‘Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels’ state that Jesus grew up in Galilee, and that much of his ministry took place there.
Most scholars support the theory that Jesus spoke Aramaic and may also have spoken Hebrew and Greek. This view is supported by James Barr in his book “Which language did Jesus speak“(1978), Stanley Porter in ‘Handbook to exegesis of the New Testament’ (1997), and Joseph Hoffman in his book ‘Jesus in history and myth.’ (1986).
The New Testament scholar and Theologian James Dunn states that there is “substantial consensus” that Jesus gave most of his teachings in Aramaic.
23. That Jesus causes contemporary atheists headaches:
In my article I give 36 reasons why scholars know with great certainty that Jesus existed. I also noted in another article the vast plethora of independent sources on Jesus’ life within the 1st century, and why this has convinced all scholars from the right to the left spectrum that Jesus existed. However, this whole issue of the existence of Jesus popularized by some atheists and mythicists (who of many are atheists) has done them, and the name of atheism a big disfavour. In fact, I will let Bart Ehrman, a leading “agnostic with atheist leanings” New Testament scholar explain why. In this interaction someone from the crowd during the Q&A period remarks: “I do not see evidence in archaeology and history for a historical Jesus!”
“Yeah, well, I do. I mean, that’s why I wrote the book (Did Jesus Exist). I wrote a whole book on it… so… there is a lot of evidence. There is so much evidence… I know in the crowds that you all run around with it is commonly thought that Jesus did not exist, let me tell you, once you get outside of your conclave there is nobody… I mean this is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity, this is not an issue. There is no scholar in any college, or university in the Western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, or any related field, who doubts that Jesus existed.”
“The reason for thinking that Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources, that’s why, and I give the details in my book. Early and independent sources indicate certainly that Jesus existed.”
And now to the issue that Jesus has caused atheists. Bart continues in his reply:
“I mean… I’m sorry, I respect you disbelief. I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism. Because, frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world. If that’s what you are going to believe you just look foolish, you are much better off going with historical evidence, and arguing historically rather than coming up with the theory that Jesus didn’t exist.”
In all honesty, I think Ehrman is correct. Atheists coming up with the theory that Jesus didn’t exist only supports the Christian belief that he is the Son of Man, and that he is somehow special. Jesus, in John 15:18, notes this line of atheist thinking:
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”
In other words, it becomes obvious to the Christian that atheists dislike Jesus so much that they even want to resort to the clearly unsupported theory that he never even existed. To be honest, to Christians and to me, it just shows that Jesus is threatening to the atheist, and that he causes them headaches. But let us be true for a moment, the atheist doesn’t believe in God, then to them Jesus should just be a man. A man that existed in 1st century Palestine, and died there. But, as we see with atheists trying to dismiss Jesus’ existence, maybe that is also too much for the atheist to admit, maybe because the implications of Jesus for them are Godlike.
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