What Can We Know About Jesus? A Friendly Response From Ratio Christi
October 29, 2010 2 Comments
Well I thought that the Arthur Drews and the G.A. Well’s versions of the life of Jesus were things of the past. But I guess there are still a few out there that think Jesus did not exist.
A few of us from Ratio Christi got to attend a lecture by atheist Frank Zindler at OSU. The topic was about The Historicity of Jesus. I do know that Frank is very knowledgeable and has studied these issues for quite some time. So I hope the tone of our response is one of graciousness. In this post, I will handle some of the areas of disagreement. Given we as a group hosted William Lane Craig at OSU this past year, you can see Frank and Dr. Craig debate here:
In order to cover every issue from Frank’s presentation, I would have to write about 30 posts. But since I know we all have lives to live, I won’t put you through that. There simply wasn’t enough time to ask more questions and talk to Frank personally. So here are some of areas of disagreement:
1. Books That Deal With These Issues
For starters, I didn’t see any indication that Frank was familiar with contemporary scholarship. Most of his points were dealt with several decades ago. This is a reoccurring problem in these discussions. Anyway, I quickly want to mention two books. Given Frank’s emphasis on the mystery religions and the unreliability of the Synoptic Gospels, I advise reading The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition: By: Paul Rhodes Eddy, Gregory A. Boyd and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony: by Richard Bauckham. Bauckham’s book is very significant in that he lays out some of the differences between ancient and modern historiography. After all, this issue plays a tremendous role in understanding the Gospels/New Testament (see more below). The Jesus Legend was even endorsed by another scholar who holds to similar views as Frank-Robert Price. The book is a critical approach to the issues within Price’s methodology-other legend theorists as well.
2. The Starting Point: Metaphysics/ Presuppositions
A member of our group asked about what Frank’s presuppositions were in his approach to historiography. In my opinion, I think this is the starting point for the entire discussion about the historicity of Jesus. Metaphysics is the study of being or reality. It is used interchangeably with ontology (Gk. ontos, “being,” and logos, “word about”). Without metaphysics, a person would be incapable of constructing a worldview. A worldview must explain all of the pieces of the puzzle we call reality.
In investigating the evidence for the life of Jesus, every historian interprets the past in direct relationship to his own Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview). Hence, a worldview will always impact one’s historical method/philosophy of history. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” If one has a commitment to philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, several aspects of the life of Jesus will be interpreted in a naturalistic way. Remember, naturalism is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced.
From what Frank said, his approach is based on anthropology. I can’t say he got the chance to expand on this issue. But given the fact he is an atheist, I assume he is a naturalist-he thinks the universe is a closed system. In using an anthropological approach to history, many work primarily on naturalistic/evolutionary assumptions. Evolutionary theory used to be used to primarily explain the evolution of how life began, etc. Now it has gone on to become a robust worldview that impacts one’s view of sociology, religion, psychology, and history as well.
I also think it is important to point out the difference between deductive and inductive logic. While deductive logic starts with the cause and reasons to the effect, inductive logic starts with the effects and attempts to find the cause.
That is why deductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). Of course, this was the mistake David Hume made. Many of his arguments have been found problematic in contemporary philosophy.
My point is the following: Is it really possible to examine the Jesus issue apart from one’s worldview/presuppositions? To read more about this issue- see the Boyd/Eddy book or The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. There is also new book by Mike Licona called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.
3. Appealing to Authorities/Jesus’ Existence
Obviously, SFFT wanted to have Frank present this information because they think he is capable of speaking authoritatively on this topic. Of course, one of the primary ways humans come to gather knowledge is by listening to authorities.
But it should be obvious that many other authorities who have their doctorates in Biblical studies (and can translate the languages) are trained in historical method, etc, probably wouldn’t agree with many of Frank’s theories/conclusions. I am sure Frank is well aware of this. Many scholars have access to the same data. And as I said, their presuppositions always impact how they interpret the data.
But back to the “Did Jesus exist issue?” Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar (not some hyper-evangelical group) says the following: “Jesus death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixition, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” ( Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, pg 145). So we know Crossan thinks that Jesus existed and was crucified.
Note: I am sure Crossan knows all about Josephus. As far as Josephus- though it is true that scholars agree that there are some interpolations does not mean that everything Josephus says is unreliable.
For one thing, his “James Passage” confirms that James was the brother of Jesus (see Ant. 20: 200-201). Josephus also confirmed the existence and martyrdom of John the Baptist, the herald of Jesus: “Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, who was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism” (Antiquities 18.5.2). This reference confirms the existence, name, mission, and martyrdom of John the Baptist, just as the New Testament presents him.
Furthermore, as the Boyd/Eddy book notes, while the manuscript tradition of the Testimonium of Josephus has the interpolations, a solid case can be made that the original passage is accurate- especially the part about Jesus being crucified under Pilate. And if you read this post all the way through, you will see they found what is called The Pilate Inscription. Also, to read more about
Josephus- see Josephus and Jesus: By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University
Bart Ehrman’s Comments
And this past year at OSU, Ratio Christi got to host a debate with New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (who is treasured by many atheists today) and Dr. Michael Brown. Even Ehrman, a professed agnostic, says the following:
“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.” (Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).
We can obviously infer that Ehrman thinks that Jesus existed and was crucified . Of course, Ehrman’s naturalistic presuppositions won’t allow him to say the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the appearances to the disciples.
And what else does Bart say about the entire mystery religion issue/Christ myth:
” What about those writers like Acharya S (The Christ Conspiracy) and Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries), who say that Jesus never existed, and that Christianity was an invented religion, the Jewish equivalent of the Greek mystery religions? This is an old argument, even though it shows up every 10 years or so. This current craze that Christianity was a mystery religion like these other mystery religions-the people who are saying this are almost always people who know nothing about the mystery religions; they’ve read a few popular books, but they’re not scholars of mystery religions. The reality is, we know very little about mystery religions-the whole point of mystery religions is that they’re secret! So I think it’s crazy to build on ignorance in order to make a claim like this. I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this.”
Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, “The Gospel According to Bart”, Fortean Times (221), 2007
Other Comments About Jesus’ Existence
Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament Studies at Western Theological Seminary, in his discussion on the historical evidence of Jesus outside of the New Testament states:
“The theory of Jesus’ nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.” (Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence.14.)
Mark Allan Powell, a professor of NT and chairman for Historical Jesus at the Society of Biblical Literature puts it harsh stating: “Anyone who says that today [i.e. that Jesus didn’t exist]–in the academic world at least–gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat.” (Mark A Powell, Jesus As a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. 168)
The late F.F. Bruce in his popular The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? said:
“Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth,’ but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories.” (Bruce, The New Testament Documents. 123.)
4. How do we know anyone existed in antiquity? Historical Skepticism
I know Frank only had so much time to do his presentation. But I was a bit surprised to hear Frank say more than once he was not entirely convinced Paul or even John the Baptist existed. This was quite radical. Maybe we need to ask how we can establish whether someone actually existed in antiquity.
Any historian will quickly admit that they can’t verify that Alexander the Great existed by observing him directly. Even though the earliest fragmentary evidence we have for Alexander The Great is nearly 100 years later, it is used by historians as a reliable source of information.
What about the life and deeds of Julius Caesar who was responsible for transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire? The earliest copy we have for the life of Caesar is nearly 1,000 years after when it was first written. Many people assume Caesar existed and did the deeds that are attested about him from the sources we have available to us. But once again, the historian knows he can’t verify Casers’ existence by observing him directly. Of course, we have a creed dated very early about Jesus (see below) but we know Jesus didn’t exist. Right?
Since historians can’t verify the events directly, they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events.
There are those who believe history cannot be objectively known. I can’t say for sure of Frank is one of these people. But it can be said that this type of skepticism would eliminate all historical science, such as historical geology (paleontology), archaeology, and forensic science. After all, they too depend on examining and interpreting remains from the past. And as I said, if this type of hyper-skepticism is because of the miraculous, that is a philosophical issue.
5. More on the Mystery Religions
I know I already mentioned the Bart Ehrman comment (see above). And Bart’s comment was only one reason as to why I was very surprised to still hear someone propose the mystery religions hypothesis. This thesis has been put forward on college campuses for many years now. And scholars wrote about the inherant problems with this issue many decades ago. The Jesus Legend ( as mentioned above) does a fine job of evaluating the weaknesses of this hypothesis.
6. Were Jews likely to borrow from pagan/mystery religions?
Sadly, the internet is full of allegations that the historical records of the life of Jesus are examples of some type of religious plagiarism. The same old dying and rising god theme myth just gets rehashed over and over. What is even more problematic is the people who hold to this view automatically assume the New Testament witness to Jesus is false. Then they punt to the myths/mystery religions to explain the problems in the New Testament.
Supposedly, the Jesus story was borrowed from influence of myths about Osiris (a.k.a. Tammuz, Adonis) or divine–human figures like Hercules. Right? This theory has failed for several reasons. First, comparative studies in religion and literature have shown that these mythological figures are merely symbols of the crop cycle (Osiris, et al.). They are not even historical figures.
Second, they don’t have any body of literature (primary and secondary sources) to support their historicity.
Third, does the Osiris myth sound like the resurrection of Jesus? In this myth, Osiris’s wife Isis searches for the pieces of his dismembered body and buries them throughout Egypt. In contrast, the Jesus empty tomb narrative involves no search for the body because the place of Jesus’ interment is known. I fail to see the any similarity.
Furthermore, the entire premise that Paul and the other N.T authors would be so open to borrowing from mystery religions/myths stem from a lack of understanding about Judaism at the time of Jesus. Perhaps we should remember what N.T. Wright calls a “ Jewish covenantal monotheism.” The Hebrew Bible forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). Religious Jews knew of these pagan myths and found them abhorrent (Ez. 8. 14–15). There are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). The Jews regard Gentiles as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23). See my post called Paul’s Gospel- Good News for Pagans- read here:
The Boyd/Eddy book-The Jesus Legend carefully lays out the details as to why Jews in the Second Temple period would be resistant to borrowing from paganism/mystery religions. Not to mention, the dating of them are in question. If they are dated in the second century and even further than that, it may be that early Christianity (pre-70 A.D), had more of an influence on them than the other way around. Same goes for the Mithra issue. It is hard to make them connect to the N.T. authors. Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. The similarities in pagan/mystery religions show this was not the source of Paul’s mystery. Two things to note:
1. The mystery of the cults was something that was known only to the selected few and to be revealed to the few. In the Bible, Paul uses in term “mystery” as something totally unknown to any man until God reveled it. The word “mystery” merely implies something contained in the Old Testament Scriptures but was withheld until Christ revealed it to His disciples.
2. In paganism, those who could not share it with others, but the biblical mystery is available to all of us.
And something to remember: Similarity is not the same thing as sameness. Parallel terms do not equate to parallel concepts. It seems when we try to say the early followers of Jesus would be so quick to borrow from other mystery relgions/paganism, we run into what is called the false cause fallacy. This fallacy occurs when someone argues that just because two things exist side by side, that one must be the cause of the other.
T.N.D. Mettinger, a Swedish scholar, professor of Lund University, and member of the Royal Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities in Stockholm, has written a recent book on one of the academic treatments of the dying and rising gods in antiquity. He says:
“The death and rising gods were closely related to the seasonal cycle. Their death and return were seen as reflected in the changes of plant life. The death and resurrection of Jesus is a one-time event, not repeated, and unrelated to seasonal changes…… There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct , drawing on the myths and rites in the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.” (The Riddle of the Resurrection: Dying and Rising God’s in the Ancient Near East, 2001, pg 221.).
Mettinger’s comment shows that he thinks the belief in Jesus’ resurrection may be profitably studied against the background of Jewish resurrection beliefs- not pagan mythology.”
7. More Resources on the Mithra Issue/Mystery Religions
Another book that was popular in the 80’s was called The Gospel and the Greeks by Ron Nash. Here is a small summary of it online where he evaluates the Mystery Religion/Mithra issue- see here.
“We do know that Mithraism, like its mystery competitors, had a basic myth. Mithra was supposedly born when he emerged from a rock; he was carrying a knife and torch and wearing a Phrygian cap. He battled first with the sun and then with a primeval bull, thought to be the first act of creation. Mithra slew the bull, which then became the ground of life for the human race. [Nash, 144]
Christianity affirms the physical death and bodily resurrection of Christ. Mithaism, like other pagan religions, has no bodily resurrection. The Greek writer Aeschylus sums up the Greek view, “When the earth has drunk up a man’s blood, once he is dead, there is no resurrection.” He uses the same Greek word for “resurrection,” anastasis, that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15 (Aeschylus, Eumenides, 647). Nash notes:
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. . . . During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook. . . . Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians. [ibid.]
Mithraism flowered after Christianity, not before, so Christianity could not have copied from Mithraism. The timing is all wrong to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity.
I also happened to remember William Lane Craig was asked about this issue. He has provided a response here:
8. Genre Issues-What Are The Gospels?
Also, if someone makes the claim that the Gospels or other parts of the New Testament are myth (meaning half-truth, folklore, fantasy, or a fictionized account of history, etc), one thing that can aid in clearing up the confusion about this issue is genre studies. Most of the modern world’s standard of accuracy is defined by an age where tape recorders, video cameras are prevalent. As Ben Witherington says so well, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.” (New Testament History, Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. pg 18).
C.S. Lewis, who wrote several fantasy novels said, “First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading . . . If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he had read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavor; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel . . . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this.” (Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, 154-55).
If you want to do into a deeper study on this issue-click on my post here:
9. The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
As I said, one book that has recently handled the issue of the Synoptic Tradition is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham. By the way, just wanted to head something off- any objections that we can’t trust eyewitness testimony to events, etc.. it is hearsay, etc- Don’t’ discuss it with me until you read the Bauckham book.
As Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses). Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5–8; Gal 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).
As Bauckham says, “This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable.”
Loveday Alexander, in his book The Preface to Luke’s Gospel offers the translations: “those with personal/firsthand experience; those who know the facts at hand.” One of the greatest assets of Bauckham’s book is the reminder that ancient historians thought that history had to be written during a time when eyewitnesses were still available to be cross-examined.
Bauckham notes that in studying the eyewitness testimony of people within a courtroom, psychologists have noted that the witnesses who participated were not required to recall the peripheral details of the event, but the gist of the events they recalled. Bauckham quotes Alan Baddeley in relationship to eyewitness memory: “Much of our autobiographical recollection of the past is reasonably free of error, provided that we stick to remembering the broad outline of events. Errors begin to occur once we try to force ourselves to come up with detailed information from an inadequate basis.This gives full rein to various sources of distortion, including that of prior expectations, disruption by misleading questions, and by social factors such as the desire to please the questioner, and to present ourselves in a good light.”
How important is it that Luke was not a direct eyewitnesses?
As Bauckham said, “Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).”
If we look at Luke 1:1-4, we see even though Luke was not a direct eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, he says the information he received was given to him by those who were “from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (1:2). Luke’s reference to the information as being “handed down” would be understood in a Jewish culture as something a rabbi did when he would “hand over” a body of teaching or legal opinion to his disciple or disciples (Mark 7:3-5).
Given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves. Like many of the great Jewish rabbis and sages, Jesus employed didactic techniques. He taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme.
Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. In the rabbinic tradition, disciples were taught to memorize, repeat, and recite (and often write) their masters teachings exactly and accurately, and were often rewarded for doing so. Novelty, expansions, and additions, and free interpretations were neither taught nor rewarded. (James R. Edwards, Is Jesus The Only Savior? pg, 59).
As Paul Barnett notes, “Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997, pg 138).
Perhaps another illustration will help. I graduated from high school in 1987. If someone accurately described my hometown that year by pointing out specific politicians, laws, the town’s topography and geography and then told me they had gathered the information from people who had been there, should I assume this individual can’t be trusted? Should I just dismiss it? So keeping this in mind let’s look at Luke and John’s Gospel.
As Louis Gottschalk says, “Conformity or agreement with other known historical [geographic] or scientific facts is often the decisive test of evidence, whether of one or more of the witnesses.” (Understanding History: A Primer of Historical Method. 2d.ed. 168).
Luke’s Gospel shows displays a variety of historical figures that have been confirmed. For example, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Cyprus, proconsul (13:7–8); Thessalonica, politarchs (17:6); Ephesus, temple wardens (19:35); Malta, the first man of the island. Each of these has been confirmed by Roman usage. In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without an error. (see See Geisler, N. L., BECA, pg 431).
Furthermore, since Luke wrote the book of Acts as well, we can see that Luke was an accurate historian. It is within Acts that we see the resurrection was part of the early apostolic preaching and the evidence given that Christianity is true (Acts 2:25-32; 3: 15; 10:39-41; 17:2-3, 18, 31). It is also within Acts that records Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22: 1-11; 26: 9-19).
In his book, The New Testament Concept of Witness, author Allison Trites says the following about the Book of Acts:
“Luke therefore wants to present the evidence, particularly that for the resurrection, which vindicate Jesus….. he seeks to provide for the truth of the events which have transpired, thereby giving Theophullis “authentic knowledge” [asphaleia], ….the same word used by Thucydides in the preface to his historical work, 1:22) and vindication his name as an historian…..He uses the historical material for the Book of Acts according to the standards of his time as they were expressed by such ancient historians as Heroductus, Polybius, Thucydides and Josephus, and certainly intends to offer evidence that will stand the test of the closest scrutiny.” E (The New Testament Concept of Witness, author Allison Trites (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press. 1977). 135; cf. pp. 128, 138).
Eduard Meyer, the distinguished historian of classical antiquity, commented that Luke’s work in spite of a more limited content, “bears the same character as those of great historians, of a Polybius, a Livy and many others.” (See Meyer, E.M. and Strange, J., Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity. London:SCM, 1981).
In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian. There are at least 84 events, customs, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archaeology. Some of them are:
1. A natural crossing between correctly named ports (13:4–5). Mount Casius, south of Seleucia, stands within sight of Cyprus. The name of the proconsul in 13:7 cannot be confirmed, but the family of the Sergii Pauli is attested.
2. The proper river port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13).
3. The proper location of Lycaonia (14:6).
4. The unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra and the correct language spoken in Lystra. Correct identification of the two gods associated with the city, Zeus and Hermes (14:12).
5. The proper port, Attalia, for returning travelers (14:25).
6. The correct route from the Cilician Gates (16:1).
7. The proper form of the name Troas (16:8).
8. A conspicuous sailors’ landmark at Samothrace (16:11).
9. The proper identification of Philippi as a Roman colony. The right location for the river Gangites near Philippi (16:13).
10. Association of Thyatira with cloth dyeing (16:14). Correct designations of the titles for the colony magistrates (16:20, 35, 36, 38).
11. The proper locations where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17:1).
12. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1), and the proper title of politarch for the magistrates (17:6).
13. The correct explanation that sea travel is the most convenient way to reach Athens in summer with favoring east winds (17:14).
14. The abundance of images in Athens (17:16), and reference to the synagogue there (17:17).
Accurate representation of the Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area (21:28).
15. The permanent stationing of a Roman cohort in the Fortress Antonia to suppress disturbances at festival times (21:31). The flight of steps used by guards (21:31, 35).
16. The two common ways of obtaining Roman citizenship (22:28). The tribune is impressed with Paul’s Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship (22:29).
17. The correct identifications of Ananias as high priest (23:2) and Felix as governor (23:34).
18. Identification of a common stopping point on the road to Caesarea (23:31).
19. Note of the proper jurisdiction of Cilicia (23:34).
The proper title protos (tes nesou) for a man in Publius’s position of leadership on the islands.
20. Correct identification of Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry a ship through the strait (28:13).
21. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as stopping-places along the Appian Way (28:15).
22. Common practice of custody with a Roman soldier (28:16) and conditions of imprisonment at one’s own expense (28:30–31).
One more thing. Cambridge New Testament scholar G.M. Stanton has discovered that the grammar, literary style, theological motifs and emphases, tone and use of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament are different from Acts 1-12 than those in chapters 13-28. Also, the speeches in Acts 1-12 contain a number of Semitic phrases and other features that indicate that it is a Greek translation from an early Aramaic source. This is what we should expect if these speeches were historically accurate. Since Peter is the speaker in Acts 12, he is addressing Jewish audiences in Aramaic. But since Paul is speaking in Acts 13-28, he is addressing a Gentile audience. Hence, he is speaking in Greek. So these issues only strengthen our confidence in these speeches as being historically reliable. (see J.P. Moreland, The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, pg110).
The Gospel of John
So after looking at Luke’s Gospel, we can then apply some of the same principles to John’s Gospel. We can note that in his book The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology. By the way, the Bauckham book makes a fairly good case that John is actual author of John. Anyway, some of those items mentiond by Blomberg are:
1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6).
2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8)
3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9).
4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1).
5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7)
6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.
7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51).
8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37.
What about all those complaints of contradictions? Read here:
11. Is Archeology the Same Thing as Biblical Creationism?
I was not sure what to make of Frank’s comments about archeological confirmation as being the equivalent to Biblical creationism. Granted, I can’t say what he really meant cause it did not come up in the q & a. But as I already mentioned, Louis Gottschalk says, “Conformity or agreement with other known historical [geographic] or scientific facts is often the decisive test of evidence, whether of one or more of the witnesses.” I already mentioned some of the findings in Luke/Acts and John.
But how do we respond when they found an entombed remain of a first-century crucified man in Palestine was discovered in 1968? This finding only confirms the biblical account of crucifixion as well as the fact that a Jewish victim of crucifixion could have a proper burial in a private tomb, just as the Gospels claim (Mark 15:42-47).
And I am not sure what we do when in 1962, a Latin inscription of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate was found at Caesarea Maritima, confirming that Pilate reigned in the position as told in the Synoptic Gospels. Click here more info:
And what about a sunken fishing boat was found in the Sea of Galilee measuring 8.2 by 2.3 meters that was found in 1986.? According to Galilean archaeologist Jonathan Reed, this fishing boat “could certainly hold thirteen people,” which are the number of people necessary for Jesus and his disciples to cross the Sea as mentioned a number of times in the Gospels. Also, the boats shallow drift (1.2 meters) confirms with Mark’s account that, in the midst of a storm, the boat began to founder as it filled with water (Mark 4:37). (Boyd/Eddy- pgs 443-445).
To read more about how archaeology has confirmed many of the events in the New Testament-click here
12. Paul’s Letters
I was happy to see Paul was brought up as well. Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource. The earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. His creed that he mentions in 1 Cor 15 is dated very close to the crucifixion of Jesus (see below). As I said, Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Of his 13 books, critical scholars even accept six of them as being authentic in that we can be certain of the author and date of these writings. Of course, there are other scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Raymond Brown that think more than six of them are authored by Paul. But of the 13 books, the six are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians (see Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2nd ed, pgs 43-44). These letters provide a variety of historical details found in the Gospels.
Some of the historical details about the life of Jesus that Paul mentions are the following:
1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16)
2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3)
3. Jesus’ virgin birth (Gal 4:4)
4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4)
5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5)
6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7)
7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7)
8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5)
9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16)
10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9)
11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7)
12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1)
13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3)
14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14)
16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7)
17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9)
18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14)
19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9)
20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15)
21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25)
22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21)
23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3)
24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20)
25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15)
26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4)
27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4)
28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8)
29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and
30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34)
As Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15). It can also be observed that the emphasis on eyewitness testimony was carried on through the early church.
As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in the book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).
So given these issues and that Paul was a Pharisee, we can gather he was aware of the issues of bearing false witness. He wanted to get his facts straight. And to say that Paul would create a mythic Jesus that was later historicized in the Gospels is problematic.
As David Wenham says:
“ Paul would have been horrified at the suggestion that he was the founder of Christianity. For him, the foundation of theology was Jesus; first, the Jesus whom he met on the Damascus road; second, the Jesus of the Christian tradition. He of course identified the two. Paul saw himself as the slave of Jesus Christ, not the founder of Christianity. “ –Boyd/Eddy, pg 232.
13. Paul’s early account for the life of Jesus
Not all scholars will agree with Frank’s dates of the Synoptic Gospels. One thing that did not come up was 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (David Hacket Fisher. Historian’s Fallacies:Toward a Logic of Historical Thought, pg 62).
It can be observed that the New Testament authors employ rabbinical terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching. Paul applied this terminology in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7 which is one of the earliest records for the resurrection of Jesus. It is agreed upon by all critical scholars that Paul wrote 1 Cor. 15 twenty- five years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Paul says the information about the resurrection was something he “received.” This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. As I said above Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses). Byrskog also claims that such autopsy claims is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5–8; Gal 1:16.
How can we know who was responsible for handing this information to Paul? And can we know when it was passed on? One of the clues to answering this question is that within the creed Paul calls Peter by his Aramic name, Cephas. Hence, if this tradition originated in the Aramaic language, the two locations that people spoke Aramaic were Galilee and Judea. (See Timothy Paul Jones. Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, pgs 89-94).
Therefore, Paul most likely received the oral history of 1 Cor, 15: 3-7 in his visit to Jerusalem (Gal 1:18). Paul’s conversion is generally dated very close to Jesus’ crucifixion (see Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus). The Greek term “historeo” is translated as “to visit” or “to interview.” Hence, Paul’s purpose of the trip was probably designed to affirm the resurrection story with Peter who had been an actual eyewitness to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:5). Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem is usually dated about 35 or 36 A.D. Even the non-Christian scholar Gerd Ludemann thinks that “the elements in the tradition are dated to the first two years after the crucifixtion….not later than three years after the death of Jesus.” (see Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, pg 38).
Why does this all matter? It seems the evidence that has just been discussed tells us that Paul received the historical content of the Gospel (the death and resurrection of Jesus) in a very short time period after the death of Jesus. To say it is a story that is “made up” or became a “legend” much later seems to fly in the face of the evidence presented here.
14. So who founded Christianity?
This is a good topic and I was grateful it came up during the lecture. But I think we can say with confidence that Jesus and Paul were not the founders of Christianity. This issue has been tackled in E.P. Sanders massive work called Paul and Palestinian Judaism. If anything, prior to 70 A.D, much of what we had was a predominantly Jewish “Messianic Movement” that was beginning to see the influx of non-Jews come into the fold. This should be no surprise since the Messiah’s mission was to be to Israel and the nations.
But let’s remember the comment by Oscar Skarsaune:
“ A point of view that seems to be gaining in scholarly research is that the oldest incarnation texts of the New Testament are not Hellenistic but Jewish. It means that if one is going to understand the concept of incarnation historically, one needs to understand it has arisen in a Jewish environment in which one was accustomed to differentiate sharply between the Creator and the created (Romans 1:25). It must be said that the building blocks of the incarnation are Jewish. Belief in the incarnation arose among Jews who considered it from Jewish presuppositions.” (see Incarnation: Myth or Fact?, pg 131)
In order to find out about Jesus, I think it would help to a do a thorough study of Judaism.
Frank also discussed in his presentation that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus. It just so happens that Lee Strobel brought up Frank’s objection to this issue to archeologist Dr. John McRay in this book The Case For Christ. You can read it on Scrib-here J. D. Crossan and Jonathan Reed bring up similar points about the epigraphic evidence for Nazareth in their book Excavating Jesus.
16. The Core Facts
Gary Habermas makes an important point when he says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe) pg 152.
So with this in mind, let me mention that in his book The Historical Jesus, Habermas lists “at least twelve separate facts that are agreed to be knowable history” by “practically all critical scholars” (The Historical Jesus, pg 158). Taking into account that even four of these facts that are accepted by virtually critical scholars (1, 5, 6, and 12) the case can still be made that the literal resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for these four facts (The Historical Jesus, pgs 162-164). The 12 facts include:
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2. He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.
3. Soon afterwards the disciples were discouraged, bereaved and despondent, having lost hope.
4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.
5. The disciples had experiences that they believed were the actual appearances of the risen Christ.
6. Due to these experiences, the disciples lives were thoroughly transformed. They were even willing to die for their belief.
7. The proclamation of the Resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history.
8. The disciple’s public testimony and preaching of the Resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.
9. The gospel message centered on the preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
10. Sunday was the primary day of worshiping and gathering.
11. James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic before this time, became a follower of Jesus when he believed he also saw the risen Jesus.
12. Just a few years later, Paul became a believer, due to an experience that he also believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
Here are five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus):
1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion
2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead
3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection
4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James
5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a commited follower of Jesus the Messiah
Who are some of these critical scholars that Habermas mentions? To read more about this see: http://preventingtruthdecay.org/jesusresurrection.shtml
It is important to understand that I don’t want to say that just because I offer a list of core facts that are universally agreed on by historians and Biblical scholars makes it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the five facts that are mentioned. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. So there was some neutrality in the study.
17. Outside Sources for Jesus
I just wanted to handle a quick objection. It seems like there is this common objection that since the New Testament documents were written by the “insiders”- the “believers”, this means we can’t trust them. After all, they are biased, right? For starters, this is what we call an unqualified generalization. It is also a gross oversimplification. Many historians admit that some bias is a good thing. If bias means they didn’t tell the truth, than how is it that Luke is such an accurate historian? (see above). Also, as Norman Geisler says:
The objection that the writings are partisan involves a significant but false implication that witnesses cannot be reliable if they were close to the one about whom they gave testimony. This is clearly false. Survivors of the Jewish holocaust were close to the events they have described to the world. That very fact puts them in the best position to know what happened. They were there, and it happened to them. The same applies to the court testimony of someone who survived a vicious attack. It applies to the survivors of the Normandy invasion during World War II or the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The New Testament witnesses should not be disqualified because they were close to the events they relate.
Related to the charge that Jesus lacks testimony by unbelievers is that there is strong evidence, but a lack of weak evidence.
Suppose there were four eyewitnesses to a murder. There was also one witness who arrived on the scene after the actual killing and saw only the victim’s body. Another person heard a second-hand report of the killing. In the trial the defense attorney argues: “Other than the four eyewitnesses, this is a weak case, and the charges should be dismissed for lack of evidence.” Others might think that attorney was throwing out a red herring. The judge and jury were being distracted from the strongest evidence to the weakest evidence, and the reasoning was clearly faulty. Since the New Testament witnesses were the only eyewitness and contemporary testimonies to Jesus, it is a fallacy to misdirect attention to the non-Christian secular sources. Nonetheless, it is instructive to show what confirming evidence for Jesus can be gleaned outside the New Testament. (BECA, pg 381).
And as far as outside sources for the life of Jesus, F.F. Bruce notes the following in his book Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament:
There are considerable reports from non-Christian sources that supplement and confirm the Gospel accounts. These come largely from Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Samaritan sources of the first century. In brief they inform us that: (1) Jesus was from Nazareth; (2) he lived a wise and virtuous life; (3) he was crucified in Palestine under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at Passover time, being considered the Jewish king; (4) he was believed by his disciples to have been raised from the dead three days later; (5) his enemies acknowledged that he performed unusual feats they called “sorcery”; (6) his small band of disciples multiplied rapidly, spreading even as far as Rome; (7) his disciples denied polytheism, lived moral lives, and worshiped Christ as Divine. This picture confirms the view of Christ presented in the New Testament Gospel.
18. One Last Thing
I have seen, read, and participated in a number of discussions on the historicity of Jesus. Why is it that so many will look at the evidence for the Historical Jesus and come away with great satisfaction while others are disappointed? Maybe the late Ron Nash has given us some help with this issue:
“What tends to be forgotten is the subjective nature of proof. First, proofs are person-relative. In other words, proofs are relative, which is simply to admit the obvious, namely, that the same argument may function as a proof for one person and result in little more than contempt for someone else. Second, proofs are relative to individual persons. A person’s response to an argument will always reflect varying features such as their past and present personal history. Proofs also may be relative to persons in particular circumstances. Therefore, proofs must pass tests that are not only logical but also psychological. No argument can become a proof for some person until it persuades a person.”
So it is clear that everyone takes their past and present personal history into looking at the existence of Jesus. This simply can’t be avoided. I think both sides need to be honest about this issue. It will help in future discussions about the God/ Jesus issue. For those that lament that we can’ know much about Jesus, the question is, “Are you hoping you can’t know alot about Jesus?” After all, if we can know alot about Jesus that could lead to some major changes in our lifestyles.
That is it for now!