The Man Christ Jesus: Examining Evidence for His Existence (Part One)

Today is the first part of a two-part series on the evidence for Jesus Christ. It is written as a response to the  December 23, 2013 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Peter Smith, which claims that the majority of people, including those within the church, don’t believe in the story of Jesus Christ, specifically in the nativity story.  The story is of great concern for several reasons, and as a result, shouldn’t be taken lightly. As you read today, the focus is to establish the seriousness of this claim, correct some of our wrong thinking, and outline evidence from Christian sources. The second part of this article will seek to establish evidence for Jesus Christ from non-Christian sources and archaeological evidence.

Of first importance from the article, note that Rev. Roger Owens of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is quoted as saying, “The Christian faith is about way more than a belief in the historical accuracy of every detail of the biblical story.” That way of thinking is the very reason why Christianity is at the place it is today! The main point of the story is Jesus Christ, absolutely! However, in presenting Jesus Christ, you cannot deny the infallibility of Scripture! To do so denies the entirety of Scripture because it is saying that we can no longer trust in the Word of God. If we can no longer trust the Word of God as being accurate, then we have left behind the very foundation of the authority of Scripture. The Bible must be viewed as the inerrant and infallible revelation of God to man (1 Corinthians 2:7-14; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

The second concerning piece is that so many people would claim to be Christian, and yet deny the account of the story of Jesus Christ’s birth. The article claims that nearly half disbelieve the story of Christ. To be forthright, I distrust statistics. Over the years, I have seen statistics manipulated so blatantly and so frequently, that I have learned that usually you cannot trust stats. Whether the stats quoted are correct or not, the most important point to should be concerning is that there are those out there who don’t believe in the true story of the Bible. It’s not about the specific number of people who distrust this aspect of Scripture, but rather that there is a sufficient amount of people that do to warrant concern. Much of this comes back to the fact that many simply don’t believe that Jesus Christ existed, or if they claim to believe, they are not well-grounded in that belief because they simply think evidence is not out there to support Christ’s existence and it is a matter of faith. For that reason, it is necessary to establish that Christ truly walked on earth as the foundation.

There are debates all the time online about the existence of Christ. I see it often in the online discussion forum for my local newspaper. Usually the claims go something like this:

A)      “There is no extrabiblical proof that Jesus Christ existed.” This is simply naivety in which a person has most likely not looked to see if evidence does exist or not. Many times, people will make claims such as this, simply because that is what they have been told and they will not research the topic themselves.

B)      “Christmas is a made up story and there is no evidence. If you are going to make a claim about Christmas and Jesus Christ, then show evidence and some sources.” What the person is trying to do is put the burden of proof on the Christian. However, they are the one making the claim, and therefore the burden of proof rests on them. They must be the first ones to provide proof and evidence of their claim, which you will note in the example, they never did.

C)      Usually at some point in the discussion, it migrates to name calling and blanket statements. None of these accomplish anything and can’t be considered a valid form of an argument. Saying, “You’re stupid” doesn’t prove/disprove whether or not Jesus Christ existed.

Making a claim doesn’t mean it is true. It becomes necessary to back it up with proof and the reality is that there is evidence available to us regarding the life of Christ, but it requires research on a person’s part.

One of the most common objections is that there is not enough evidence to support the existence of Jesus Christ. It should be noted that society accepts many things on far less evidence than what is present for that of Jesus Christ. Truly, how much evidence would be sufficient? It is likely that no amount of evidence would be sufficient to stop the claims against the life of Christ. What has to be looked at is the evidence that does exist, and continue evaluating the new evidence that surfaces. Usually the claim that there is sufficient evidence is the result of fallacious thinking. Many people simply assume that Jesus Christ would have been so well-known during his time there would have been large volumes of writing devoted to Him during that time. However, just because we are aware of who Jesus Christ is today, does not mean that they were aware of Him during that day. We have had nearly 2,000 years to spread the information around the globe and we have the technology to spread it more quickly today than they could then. This is the second point to consider. News was not readily available as it is today. Think about how much we do not know about history. There is much that has been lost, simply because the ability to keep records and transfer information was not the same. Finally, Jesus was not someone such as Alexander the Great, who because of his position and power, there is much information readily available. Realistically, Jesus was simply one man from an unknown town in a small, obscure, and unimportant part of the world at that time. Therefore, it is wrong to think there should be much information about Him. The reality is that Jesus only influenced a small area of the world during His earthly life, and it was a part of the world that most didn’t even care about. Because of this, we should be grateful for the evidence we do have and should look at it in relation to establishing the existence of Jesus Christ.

Christian Evidence: The first evaluation is look at evidence that is available from Christian sources. The majority of sources are more about the teachings of Christ than they are about the life of Christ, but there is a plethora of evidence available. Some of this include fragments and scripts such as Egerton Papyrus 2, Oxyrhynchus Papyri 654, 655, and the Nag Hammadi Library (These are just some examples, and I would urge you to research some more out; there are some additional resources below that might help you in that). There is also a litany of sources available about Jesus’ sayings, His life, His childhood, and even some additional gospels. Understand though, that there are MANY of these sources that are not accepted as truth. Even some that can be dated to shortly after the life of Christ may not be considered authentic. While it is true that one aspect of canonicity is that no piece of Scripture can contradict another piece of Scripture, this is not the only reason for questioning these documents. Many of them are questioned simply because their authenticity cannot be verified and is in doubt. Understand that early on, in the first and second centuries especially, both the Jews and Gnostics would often write false information about Jesus Christ. Their purpose was to establish support for their own cause, and if they could discredit Jesus Christ or portray His life in a way that suited them, then they would do so through their writings. What is important to note is that there is so much information that has been devoted to writing about Jesus Christ. Even if it was false information, the fact that so many people chose to write about Him means that He had a large enough impact that He became the key focus of their writing (it is not as though this writing was fiction writing like we have today, in which Jesus was the main character, many of these writings portray Jesus Christ as a historical figure that lived during that point in history).

Understanding this alone should cause us to pause and examine what we do know about Jesus Christ and what we don’t know, then seek out the information that is available. Rather than make generalized statements or accept the teachings of someone else, including this article, seek it out for yourself.

Tomorrow, in part two, we will examine some specific evidence from non-Christian sources and archeology.

 

The original article published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette can be read at the following link: Nativity Story Has Its Share of Skeptics

Additional Resources:

For more information and research, I would suggest the following resources.

The Evidence for Jesus by R.T. France as published by Regent College Publishing. ISBN: 1-57383-370-3

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel as published by Zondervan. ISBN: 978-0-310-20930-0

The Earthly Career of Jesus, the Christ by Robert D. Culver as published by Mentor. ISBN: 1-85793-798-2 (Note: This book if more about the life of Christ rather than giving evidence to support His existence. However, it is a great read to understand more about the life of Christ).

Note:

This series is based on a book review I wrote in January, 2013 about R.T. France’s book The Evidence for Jesus. As a result, much of this writing is also based on the book and I would suggest reading it. At times, it can be difficult to follow, but R.T. France does a great job outlining evidence for Christ. Even more important, he does so objectively, making it a great resource for both believer and unbeliever.

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