An Indisputable fact of history


All those who take history seriously acknowledge the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. 

It’s an indisputable fact of history that there existed in the first century a man identified as Jesus of Nazareth. We possess detailed accounts of his birth, life, contemporaries, and death.

We know when Jesus lived– 5/6 BC through 30/32 BC., and where he was born — the town of Bethlehem. We know where he spent most of his life— Nazareth of Galilee. We know about many historical figures of the same period of human history.

We know more details surrounding the death of Jesus Christ than any other person in the ancient world. We also know many details about the events leading up to his death—his betrayal, arrest, religious and civil trial. We know what was said to Jesus by the leaders of Israel and Rome; what was said by the crowd and by those who were crucified with him. We also know what Jesus said to these people as well as what he said to his followers. We even know the name of an obscure person who carried his cross, and the names of those who assisted in his burial. These are historical details that matter to historians, 

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most famous death in history. Scholars debate its significance but they cannot honestly deny that it happened. 

Of course, there is a turning point in the history of Jesus and, (although found in the same historical documents), not everyone believes the rest of the story about Jesus Christ.

These documents present a clear picture of Jesus as one who existed prior to his birth and one who rose from the grave (John 8:58). The story in the New Testament consistently presents Christ as one who does not fit the normal categories for human beings. He is fully human but not merely human (Philippians 2:5-11). 

 But can we trust the historical account. Unfortunately some people choose not to trust the historical record despite its authenticity. They do this not because the texts cannot stand under normal scrutiny applied to historical witness but because of their strong bias against anything that involves the supernatural or miraculous.

But an exceptionally reasonable case can be made for the historical reliability of the New Testament. In fact, when the rules that guide standard criticism of historical witness are applied to the New Testament, a solid case can be made for its trustworthiness. 

When evaluating the integrity of documents, historians look for internal and external evidence. This would include the following seven considerations:

  1. Eyewitness perspective – Does the author claim to be an eyewitness or that he uses eyewitness sources?
  2. Self-damaging material – Are the heroes of the account only presented in a positive light? When the gospels recorded a woman as the first witness of the resurrection, they risked rejection of the account. In the culture of that time, a woman’s testimony was not considered credible. Why would they risk a potentially damaging detail like this if the account was an intentional fabrication?
  3. Specific and irrelevant material – Authentic documents, unlike fabricated ones, tend to include details that are not necessary to the main story. Falsified accounts tend to generalize.
  4. Reasonable consistency and differences – Are the four gospel accounts consistent on the major points? Minor differences are expected in authentic accounts. If the four gospels were later products of the early church, a greater effort would have been made to iron out all differences.
  5. Features of mythology – C.S. Lewis once said, “…as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend, and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of things” (God in the Dock).
  6. Confirmation – Do contemporary documents or archeological finds substantiate or falsify the material?
  7. Character and motivation – Is there anything about the character or motivation of the author that would indicate that he fabricated the material? Would the author’s gain something from their story?

“The idea of a crucified god really did not make sense in the first century. It’s not a message you make up if you’re going to start a religion in the first century A.D.” (Ben Witherington).

Important questions:

If the New Testament gospels were written (centuries after the events recorded in them) as biased history by the early church, why would they portray the earliest leaders of Christianity as defectors? Why would they present the Apostle Peter as one who denied Jesus? Why wouldn’t they picture the apostles as eagerly expecting the resurrection? The main human characters are portrayed as fearful cowards hiding from the authorities. Surely this is not a self-serving account of history. And why would they use a woman as the first witness of the resurrection? Didn’t they realize that a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in the court of law? 

Consistent application of the rules for testing valid history yields a firm case for the reliability of the New Testament documents. The good news is that we have reliable evidence for belief in the resurrection of Jesus. This means we have a strong basis for expecting that those who turn to Jesus for salvation will also be raised from the dead. Jesus said, “I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I hold the keys that unlock the prison of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:18). Those who trust in him have reliable evidence for believing that they too will be freed from the power of death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

Do you understand why C. S. Lewis wrote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important”?

For further reflection:

 “The biblical presentation of Jesus refuses to remain nicely confined to any of our containers. One picture after another of Jesus in this long line of nontraditional portraits fails before one question dear to the hearts of all faithful Christians: ‘What about the Cross?’… Why would anyone crucify the reasonable Jesus of the Enlightenment?  Why would anyone crucify the dreamy poet of Romanticism? Why would anyone crucify the Law-abiding, mild-mannered rabbi of revisionist Jewish scholarship? Why would anyone crucify the witty, enigmatic, and marginal figure of the Jesus Seminar?” A Jewish scholar says, ‘Theologians produced the figure they could admire most at the least cost.’ But the Cross stands amidst each such easy path, each attempt to avoid the heart of the matter and the cost of discipleship. The Cross remains a stumbling block for all who encounter this Jesus. He is perhaps not the person we want, but he is surely the person we still – desperately – need” (Allen)

“Jesus of Nazareth remains the most important individual who has ever lived. Nobody else has had comparable influence over so many nations for so long. Nobody else has so affected art and literature, music and drama. Nobody else can remotely match his record in the liberation, the healing and the education of mankind. Nobody else has attracted such a multitude not only of followers but of worshippers. Our claim, then, is not just that Jesus was one of the great spiritual leaders of the world. It would be hopelessly incongruous to refer to him as ‘Jesus the Great,’ comparable to Alexander the Great, Charles the Great, or Napoleon the Great. Jesus is not ‘the Great,’ he is the only. He has no peers, no rivals and no successors” (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian). 

Steve Cornell

See Where is Jesus now and what is He doing?

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Atheists, Bible, Bible from God, Bibliology, Blaming religion, Christian worldview, Christianity, Christmas, Deity of Jesus, Jesus Christ, Origin of Bible. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to An Indisputable fact of history

  1. “It’s an indisputable fact of history that there existed in the first century a man identified as Jesus of Nazareth.”

    Actually, it is disputable. There are no reports of him that were written at the time he was supposed to have lived. Only years after he died (many years) do we have reports.

    That doesn’t mean he didn’t exist. But it’s far from ‘indisputable’.

    Not that it particularly matters to me either way. Whether he existed or not, there is insufficient evidence to confirm the supernatural claims made about him.

    • Keith says:

      I think the consensus is the version of Josephus’ writings we have are probably not entirely authentic, but strong evidence that Jesus existed — absent new information, I think it’s hard to dispute Jesus’ life.

  2. 2dadsblog says:

    I’m a bit concerned by your assertions that much is “known” about Jesus and his life. How is it known? Is there any corroborating evidence outside of the hodge podge of documents we call the bible? And what of the inconsistencies and outright contradictions that exist among the books of the bible? I could accept what you say, had you started: “There is a good chance that a man named Jesus once lived. Much of his life, however, is pure speculation and heresay…”

  3. Keith says:

    Why do Christians continue to make this argument? It simply doesn’t make sense to argue the godship of Christ this way.

    Let’s apply these same seven considerations to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series:

    Eyewitness perspective: absolutely, the author describes not only events but internal dialogue that could only come from being an eyewitness to the events and having direct access to the participants during the writing process.

    Self-damaging material: absolutely, the heroes of Harry Potter are deeply flawed, both Dumbledore and Severus Snape come to mind.

    Specific and irrelevant material: good grief, yes. There’s an immense amount of detail, and nobody but the author could have believed Harry, Hermione and Ron needed to wander the forests of England for 200 pages.

    Reasonable consistency and differences: consistent on all major points, but with minor differences. For example, while being sorted into houses, Harry looks up at the Sorting Hat’s stool, and there are only three people left to be sorted; Professor McGonagall then calls out the names of four more students.
    Admittedly (as in the Bible), Harry Potter describes impossible events. For example, the boa constrictor at the zoo winked at Harry during their conversation; while snakes do have eyelids, it is impossible for snakes to blink. Perhaps magical snakes have special abilities, though.
    Regardless, it’s unfair to use these kinds of “facts” to argue the rest of Harry Potter is not true, taken as a whole, it is reasonably consistent.

    Features of mythology: Harry Potter reads like a legend.
    But, with all due respect to C.S. Lewis, anyone claiming the Bible doesn’t read like a legend has the burden of proof. The talking snakes, world-wide floods, witches, (many) people rising from the dead, the sun stopping in the sky so the battle can finish and other miracles ad infinitum, all push me toward “legend”.

    Confirmation: absolutely, many of the historical references in Harry Potter still exist and can be visited today. The correct and descriptive locations we can actually visit in London give us reason to believe Hogwarts also exists.

    Character and motivation: J.K. Rowling is a billionaire holder of the Order of the British Empire, and Christian tradition tells us St. Paul was beheaded by the Romans. I have to give this one to the Bible.
    But… if the fate of early Christians validates the Bible, I’m going to have to reconsider the Mormons. After all, they faced terrible persecutions in the early years of the LDS movement, but apparently they didn’t give up because they knew the truth? Or the modern Islamic suicide bombers: does that argue for the truth of their myths? Martyrdom is, unfortunately, all to common to be used as an argument for “truth”.

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