HISTORY : (Lesson 1 of 4) Pastor Barry Bruce
Is Jesus A Real Man of History? Matthew 24:1-3, Luke 19:41-44
As we approach Holy week (the celebration of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life and His resurrection) it is important to ask the very basic question: is Jesus a real man of history.
How do we prove a historical person existed beyond any doubt? Can we prove that Alexander the Great or Plato or Socrates all existed? All we have are ancient manuscripts that mention them and claim to be copies of copies of their writings. Yet, most people don’t have any problem believing they existed. However, when it comes to Jesus, suddenly things are different. Have you ever encountered an atheist who argued that Alexander the Great, Plato, and Socrates never existed? Of course not! It is only Jesus that they attack as a historical figure, because it is Jesus who challenges our living. With very few exceptions, serious historians do support the historicity of Jesus, and reject the theory that Jesus never existed, known as the Christ myth theory .
Evidence lies primarily in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and the various epistles written by the Apostle Paul and those who claim to have been with Christ. (i.e. Peter, James, John, Jude, etc.) Many atheists and liberal theologians say these documents are fabrications or are not reliable because they are written too long after Jesus’ death, but there are many theologians and historicists who logically hold to a much earlier dating of the New Testament books. These support the view that the whole New Testament, including Revelation, was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The obvious reason being that none of the new testament books record that historic event. That seems particularly odd since Jesus Himself prophesies that event in the verses above. If the earlier dates truly reflect the actual writings of the original books then with Jesus being crucified in A.D. 33 there would only be about a 12-17 year gap between that event and the writing of the gospel of Mark (A.D. 45-50). Traditionally, Mark is viewed as the first written gospel followed by Matthew, Luke, and John. In John’s gospel he writes ”there is a pool near the sheep gate” (John 5:2) offering more proof that his gospel was written before A.D. 70 for that pool was part of the temple which was destroyed.
The Copies of His Story…
The Gospel accounts were very accurately transmitted from then to now. When a Gospel or letter was written, it was copied very carefully by scribes. Their living depended on their accuracy and competency in making copies. These copies would be circulated throughout the Mediterranean area. For example, one copy of the Gospel of Matthew was sent to one area, and another copy was sent somewhere else hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Then copies of those copies would be made with the same meticulous precision. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of such copies, and they have compared them. The New Testament documents are better than 99.5% textually pure. That means less than one-half of 1% of the copies (5,000 of them) have any textual variation in their copying. This is far more accurate than any other transcript of antiquity in existence today.
“If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.” Michael Grant, Classical Historian/ Author 1914 – 2004
The Bottom Line 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21
The Bottom line for Christians is this—whether the Gospels were written soon after the death of Christ, or not until 30 years after his death, does not really matter, because their accuracy and authority does not rest on when they were written but on what they are: the divinely inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). We should also remember that one of the promises Jesus gave His disciples was that He would send them “another helper,” the Holy Spirit, who would teach them all things and “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). So, whether it was few years or many after Jesus’ death that the Gospels were written, we can have total confidence and faith in their completeness and accuracy, knowing that they were written by “men moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), who accurately recorded the very words of God.
The Shroud of Turin is a centuries old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man. Millions believe this man to be Jesus of Nazareth. Modern science has completed hundreds of thousands of hours of detailed study and intense research on the Shroud. It is, in fact, the single most studied artifact in human history. The image on the shroud has been determined to have been caused by a sudden radioactive burst which burned seeping blood into a laser like image imprinted on linen. New experiments (2013) date the Shroud of Turin to the 1st century AD. The latest studies determined that the shroud is not a medieval hoax as once thought. For more info. see shroud.com
The James Ossuary is a 1st-century box that which contained the bones of the dead. An Aramaic inscription (English: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus“) is cut into one side of the box. The authenticity of the inscription was challenged in December 2004. Oded Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception. The trial lasted seven years before Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict. Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. The ossuary was returned to Golan, who put it on public display. The authenticity of the box remains in question.