Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

|

The Birth of Jesus- Myth or History?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

It looks like American Atheists is at it again.  Just in time for the holidays, the organization has sponsored billboards all over the country to wage war on Christianity.  The orange and black billboard displays four images:   a statue of the Roman god Neptune, Santa Claus, a guy wearing a suit and a devil mask, and a classical portrait of Jesus Christ.  The sign is punctuated by the words, “37 million Americans know MYTHS when they see them-  What do YOU see?”  All of this comes as no surprise since the same organization held a similar campaign last year in which they put up billboards depicting The Nativity with the accompanying message, “You KNOW it’s a myth-  this season, celebrate REASON.”  The obvious common denominator between the two signs is the message that Jesus is nothing more than a myth.

If given the opportunity to speak to those who designed the billboard, here are a few questions that I would like to ask them:  “Just for clarification, when you make the claim that Jesus is just a myth, do you mean that the entire story of Jesus is a myth?  Are you saying that Jesus was not a real person in terms of history, or are you specifically referring to the miracles attributed to him?  That is, are you saying that Jesus was a real, historical figure, but any details referring to his virgin birth and miraculous acts are mere fabrications that were added to the historical account?”   All of these questions are very important, so I want to take a moment to address them separately.

For starters, let’s investigate the claim that the entire story of Jesus is a work of fiction.  Is it true that Jesus was not a real person in terms of history?  The fact of the matter is that you would be hard-pressed these days to find a respectable scholar, even among critics of the Bible, who is willing to make such a bold claim.  Nevertheless, there are a few people in academia who continue to insist that the Jesus of the New Testament never actually existed.  Those who hold such a view will oftentimes state it this way;  “Outside of the New Testament, we’ve never found any other ancient writings that acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as a real, historical figure.”

In response to such a statement, the first thing we need to ask the critic is why is it necessary to find a source outside of the New Testament?  In other words, even if it was the case that the New Testament documents were the only historical records that mention Jesus, why isn’t that sufficient?  Why must we accept the terms set by the critic who demands that the New Testament documents are unacceptable unless they are supported by other, additional writings?  This raises another related question:  Why is it that the New Testament documents are assumed to be “guilty until proven innocent” when nearly every other ancient historical document is approached on the basis that it is trustworthy until proven otherwise?  There is no reason why the New Testament writings should be treated any differently or with any less respect than we give to any other historical documents, especially in light of the fact that the New Testament documents are better attested to than any other ancient documents in terms of manuscript evidence alone.  In addition to this, the New Testament surpasses most other ancient documents in terms of confirmation through archaeological discoveries.

Take, for example, the book of Acts which is a historical record of the early Christian church immediately following the resurrection of Jesus.  If the book of Acts is merely a work of fiction by the author (Luke), then one could easily expose it as such.  It leaves itself open and vulnerable to careful scrutiny by virtue of the fact that it is filled with very specific details in terms of naming exactly who, what, when, where, why, and how the alleged events took place.   In his scholarly work, “The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History”, historian Colin Hemer painstakingly verifies Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts by identifying in precise detail 84 facts recorded by Luke that have been confirmed by archaeological and historical research.  Luke’s careful attention to detail in recording historical events led British archaeologist Sir William Ramsay to conclude after thirty years of study, “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…..this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”  (“The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament”, p.222).

So, what does all of this have to do with the question of whether or not Jesus was a real person in history?  The author of the book of Acts is the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke in which he carefully records a detailed account of the birth of Jesus, as well as his life, ministry, miracles, trial, execution and resurrection.  The point is, since Luke has proven himself to be an accurate historian in the book of Acts, we have good reason to think that he was just as careful in meticulously gathering and recording the historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of Luke.  Furthermore, this affirms the historical accuracy of the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) where the events they record correspond to the details given in Luke’s Gospel.  The abundance of historical and archaeological evidence in support of the New Testament should be enough to convince any honest, open-minded person that the Gospels give us an accurate, reliable, historical record of the life and words of Jesus.  The New Testament documents stand on their own merits according to the generally-accepted methods of historical investigation.  But for the sake of the hard-core skeptic who insists on citing ancient sources outside the Bible, there are several non-Biblical sources from the ancient world which affirm the historical certainty of the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Such sources would include the writings of Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Thallus, Seutonius, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, Tacitus, Celsus, and the Jewish Talmud.  (It’s worth noting that the last three in this list are not only non-Biblical sources, they could be considered anti-Biblical sources).

This brings us back to the initial claim by American Atheists that Jesus is just a myth.  As we’ve seen, they certainly cannot mean that he never existed.  They can only mean that they believe that the miracles recorded in the New Testament, such as his virgin birth, are nothing more than fanciful additions to the story of Jesus.  However, this, too, is an assumption that is not based on evidence or good scholarship.  It is a misguided conclusion based on an atheist bias.  That is to say, before they even look at the evidence, they already have their minds made up that God does not exist.  Therefore, miracles (being an act of God) cannot and do not occur.  Their bias demands a naturalistic explanation.

However, such a false conclusion about the “impossibility” of miracles is not only unnecessary, it is irrational, especially in light of the cumulative evidence for God’s existence.  The latest discoveries in cosmology, physics, biology, genetics, etc. all point unmistakably to a Divine Architect.  That being the case, it logically follows that if God has the authority and power to bring the universe and everything in it into being at His command, then it is not beyond His power to send His Son into this world in an extraordinary way, born of a young virgin, in fulfillment of a prophecy given by Isaiah almost 700 years earlier.  “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’-  which means, ‘God with us’.”  (Matthew 1:22,23)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Bible | 8 Comments »

Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 3)

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

I began this series by exploring some of the reasons why beliefs about God cannot all be true. I then asked if there was any way to test the various beliefs that we have about God in order to determine which of those beliefs are more likely to be true.  What followed from that was a summary of the evidence that we find in various areas of philosophy and science that strongly support the idea that God exists.  In addition to that, we found that this same evidence provides clues that can give us some insight as to the nature and character of God.  Using that criteria to test the validity of various beliefs about God, I pointed out that only Judaism, Islam, and Christianity had passed the test thus far.  The only question that remains is this:  Is there any way to determine which of those three is most likely to give us the truth about God?  At this point, it all comes down to a question of authority.

In order to explain what I mean, we need to return to the example that I gave in part one of this series.  (If you haven’t read part one, it would be helpful to do so before reading further).  We imagined a table upon which I had collected papers that you sent in to me that expressed the various and contradictory beliefs that you have about my dad whom you’ve never met.  Now imagine that I write down a detailed description of my dad and add it to the pile.  Out of all of the descriptions, which description carries the most authority in giving us the truth about my dad?  Obviously it would be my description in this particular case.  When it comes to the truth about my dad, I can speak with authority on that topic, only because I have “inside information” about him as a result of having a privileged, unique, personal relationship with him.  The point is, on any given issue, it is always the case that some people are going to be in a better position than others when it comes to having access to the truth about that issue or topic-  it’s unavoidable.  It’s important for us to note that there is nothing “arrogant”, “intolerant”, or “narrow-minded” about someone claiming to have the truth about something, so long as they have the credentials to speak authoritatively on that topic.

Now let’s apply that same principle in our attempt to find the truth about God.  The question that we all need to ask is this:  Is there anyone in history whose life and words were so unique, so extraordinary, so different, and whose credentials are so obvious that if anyone has access to the truth about God, it would have to be that person?  May I suggest that the most likely candidate is Jesus of Nazareth.  Let’s consider his credentials.  He was born of a virgin.  (It’s worth noting that this detail about Jesus is even acknowledged in the Qur’an).  Those who knew him admitted that they could find no fault in him.  He fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic prophecies down to the finest detail. He was seen by eye-witnesses to demonstrate power over nature, to heal the sick and to raise the dead.  Finally, as the ultimate proof of his authority, he raised himself from the dead, as verified by numerous eye-witnesses including his enemies (Saul, for example).  In short, Jesus’ qualifications put him in such a unique category that if anyone has the “inside track” when it comes to the truth about God, if anyone can speak with authority on this topic, it has to be him.  If Jesus doesn’t know, then no one does.  The only way we will ever know the truth about God is to take Jesus’ testimony seriously.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Theology | 2 Comments »

|
  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.