March 12, 2017
In this issue: Did Jesus Exist? (Part 2) by Kyle Campbell
by Kyle Campbell
[Continued from last issue: Click here for first part]
The Corroborating Evidence: Is There Evidence For Jesus Outside His Biographies?
Corroborative evidence supports other testimony; it affirms or backs up the essential elements of eyewitness accounts. In effect, corroborative evidence acts like the support wires that keep a tall antenna straight and unwavering. The more corroborative evidence, the stronger and more secure the case.
On the whole, the gospels are excellent sources — they are the most trustworthy, complete, and reliable sources for Jesus. The incidental sources really do not add much detailed information; however, they are valuable as corroborative evidence.
Josephus, a historian in the first century A.D., in his book Antiquities Of The Jews, describes how a high priest named Ananias took advantage of the death of the Roman governor Festus — who is mentioned in the New Testament — in order to have James the brother of Jesus killed. Christ is mentioned in the passage, and there is no scholar who has successfully disputed this passage. If it had been a later Christian addition to the text, it would have been more complimentary of James. He furthermore wrote another section in Testimonium Flavianum which mentions Jesus’ miracles, death, and resurrection.
From time to time people have tried to deny the existence of Jesus, but this is really a lost cause. There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus did exist. The two references to Jesus by Josephus are highly significant especially since his accounts of the Jewish war have proved to be very accurate. The details have been corroborated through archaeological excavations at Masada as well as by historians like Tacitus.
Tacitus recorded what is probably the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament. In A.D. 115 he explicitly states that Nero persecuted the Christians, who took their name from Christ, as scapegoats to divert suspicion away from himself for the great fire that had devastated Rome in A.D. 64. Crucifixion was the worst punishment anyone could endure, and the fact that the church started based on a crucified man has to be explained. This is an important testimony by an unsympathetic witness to the success and spread of the gospel. It is significant that he said an immense multitude held so strongly to their beliefs that they were willing to die rather than recant.
Pliny the Younger, in his correspondence with Emperor Trajan, specifically refers to the Christians he has arrested. It was probably written about A.D. 111, and it attests to the rapid spread of the gospel, both in the city and in the rural areas, among every class of persons — slave women as well as Roman citizens.
Even Jewish historians, who do not normally go into great detail about “heretics,” mention Jesus, calling Him a false messiah who practiced magic and who was justly condemned to death. They also repeat the rumor that Jesus was born of a Roman soldier and Mary, suggesting that there was something unusual about His birth. So even in a negative way, Jesus is attested of in the Talmud.
We have better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religion. Although Gathas of Zoroaster, about 1000 B.C., are believed to be authentic, most of the Zoroastrian scriptures were not put into writing until after the third century A.D. The most popular Parsi biography of Zoroaster was written in A.D. 1278. The scriptures of Buddha, who lived in the sixth century B.C., were not recorded for centuries, and the first biography of Buddha was written in the first century A.D. Although we have the sayings of Muhammad, who lived from A.D. 570 to 632, in the Qur’an, his biography was not written until more than a century after his death. We also have volumes of writings by the “apostolic fathers,” who were the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament. Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and others attest to the basic facts about Jesus, particularly His teachings, crucifixion, resurrection, and divine nature. Even if you were to throw away every copy of the gospels, you still have a portrait by these men of Jesus as the unique Son of God.
The Scientific Evidence: Does Archaeology Confirm The Biographies Of Jesus?
Archaeology involves the uncovering of artifacts, architecture, art, coins, monuments, documents, and other remains of ancient cultures. Experts study these relics to learn what life was like in the days of Jesus. If an ancient historian’s incidental details are accurate, our confidence in other material that the historian wrote but that cannot be as readily cross-checked increases.
Luke and Acts together constitute about one-quarter of the entire New Testament. Consequently, a critical issue is whether Luke was a factually accurate historian.
The general consensus of both liberal and conservative scholars is that Luke is very accurate as a historian. In Luke 3:1 he refers to Lysanias being the tetrarch of Abilene in A.D. 27. Archaeologists found an inscription from the time of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) which names Lysanias as tetrarch in Abila near Damascus. Furthermore, archaeologists working at the ruins of Caesarea Maritima found a stone slab bearing the name of Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:29). The dedication states that he was the “prefect/governor” of Judea. The early governors of Judea were prefect rank, the later were of procurator rank, beginning with Cuspius Fadus in A.D. 44 (cf. Luke 3:1). John 5:1-15 records how Jesus healed an invalid by the Pool of Bethesda. John provides the detail that the pool had five porticoes. For a long time people cited this as an example of John being inaccurate, because no such place had been found. But more recently the Pool of Bethesda has been excavated and there were indeed five porticoes, or colonnaded porches or walkways. Carved in relief on the triumphal Arch of Titus, in the ancient Forum of Rome, is a scene of Roman soldiers on parade carrying items looted from the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. These items included the Table of the Showbread, the Menorah (Golden Lampstand) and a scroll of God’s law (cf. Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6).
Archaeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible. On the contrary, there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars that archaeology has shown to be wrong. Archaeology’s repeated affirmation of the New Testament’s accuracy provides important corroboration for its reliability.
This is in stark contrast with how archaeology has proved to be devastating for Mormonism. Although Joseph Smith claimed that his Book of Mormon is “the most correct of any book upon the earth,” archaeology has repeatedly failed to substantiate its claims about events that supposedly occurred long ago in the Americas.
Those who know the facts now recognize that the New Testament must be accepted as a remarkably accurate source book.
There is no reason for anything to undermine your faith in the essential trustworthiness of the New Testament. Gary Habermas has detailed 39 ancient sources documenting the life of Jesus containing more than 100 reported facts concerning Jesus’ life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection. Most of these sources also specifically address the divine nature of Jesus.
We are going to learn by the end of this series that it will require much more faith for the atheist to maintain their atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth. There is not a single explanation that fits the evidence of history nearly as well as the conclusion that Jesus was who He claimed to be: the one and only Son of God.
Via Watchman Magazine.