Having decided the parameters for belief we now come to Jesus Christ.
When discussing Christ there are two big questions to deal with, his existence and if he is or is not a divine being.
When dealing with this question one mistake that our Protestant friends tend to make is using the Bible as proof of both. The Book can’t be proof of itself, that is: One can’t argue that a book is true because the book itself says so.
We can however in this step of our inquiry take the bible as a collection of ancient text that actually holds up quite well in many details.
There is dispute about the date of the authorship of the various New Testament books We can establish that what we would call Christians existed during the reign of Claudius and Nero in the 1st Century AD we also note that there no Roman record of Christians existing at the time of the reign of Augustus Caesar or before, nor any roman historical record stating this.
This tends to support the biblical time line which specifically mentions both Augustus Caesar and Tiberius Caesar. Mind you at this point we are only trying to establish the existence of Christ not the divinity thereof.
Before I go deeper into evidence it would be worthwhile to recall this statement I made before:
Is willing to accept that new data or evidence may take current assumptions and throw them for a loop.
Understands that such new data or evidence has to stand up to a higher level of scrutiny than current assumptions in order to replace them.
This statement becomes very important because for nearly 1800 years the question of the existence of Jesus Christ was an accepted fact among scholars and scientists, it was accepted among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
Critiques and arguments to the contrary didn’t start appearing until the very late 18th century and until the mid 19th century didn’t take root. Germany appears to be the center of this school of thought, however it was in fact a school of thought and remember our rule that if you are going to overturn established facts it is incumbent to bring a ponderousness of evidence. Strangely enough many choose the exact opposite take.
Now lets look at the evidence. I am going to lean on Will Durant:
He first cites Josephus circa 93 AD and points out that the praise given to Jesus by a person out to please both Jews and Romans is a tad suspect but the big gun comes from a 1st century AD man named Thallus.
Lets Jump to the Gospel of Matthew briefly:
From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. Matt 27:45-50
Now Thallus the pagan isn’t going to put up with this. About 50 AD he states that the darkness is a purely natural phenomenon and just a coincidence.
Durant put this argument in its modern perspective:
the argument took the existence of Christ for granted. The denial of that existence seems never to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity.
And remember that particular fragment to the best of our knowledge predates the Gospel of Matthew that it unintentionally collaborates by two decades. The pagan provides the proof. Talk about working in mysterious ways.
Having established the existence we can then examine the Gospels. This is a favorite target of skeptics who in their zeal to disprove Christ’s existence they as Durant says:
applied to the New Testament test of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies –eg., Hammurabi, David, Socrates would fade into legend.
He then quotes Joseph Klausner:
If we had ancient sources like those in the Gospels for the history of Alexander or Caesar, we should not cast any doubt upon them whatsoever.
Lets consider something important; One mistake that 20th and 21st century people tend to make is applying what I like to call “twilight zone” thinking to people of earlier times. The first rate series Twilight Zone prepared and gave us twists that the like of which we had not seen before. They are such an established part of our set of thoughts that we naturally think critically of almost everything and expect the unexpected.
Now think of the 1st century AD; No means of mass communication. A constant struggle to simply live. The Advanced civilization of Rome dependent on a huge slave population. The fastest means of communication is horseback on land and Triremes and galleys by sea. We read about great orators and philosophers but remember this is the minority of the population. You are dealing with a group of people who are largely illiterate and living at a subsistence level. The idea that wealth, might and power were a sign of the favor of the Gods was not just dominant but was basic common sense.
Lets take the Gospels themselves. The entire idea is backwards, the last shall be first and the first last. The fatted calf is killed for the do nothing son. The son of God is tortured and killed on a cross.
Can someone explain to me how you are going to convince 1st century people something so opposite of their basic common sense?
Now I’m going to use the favorite argument that comes from my parish priest and expand on it. We see Jesus killed. We have a group of followers of Jesus scattered. It’s apparently all over. The established power of Rome and the elders of Israel have finished him. He would be rejected by both the established religious and civil authorities.
Now lets look at what happens within a period of time these followers of Christ are not only back but are standing up to established authority even to the point of death. We see all but one of the disciples of Christ killed violently.
Again remember the time and place. Something has convinced a group of early 1st century Jews in a society that rejects non-conformity that they will not only challenge the established religious law but the power and majesty of the Roman empire.
Logically something pretty damn impressive had to turn a bunch of guys fleeing to people unafraid of death and disgrace. We have a written explanation written at a contemporary time vs cartwheels being turned by people who say otherwise.
As Spock once said:
If I let go a hammer on a planet having a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has, in fact, fallen.
There are a lot of loops that people tie themselves into to explain this away. It’s part of the whole Jesus the man, Jesus the teacher theme. C.S. Lewis says this:
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon’ or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
This is what we are left. From what I can see I think Lewis’ choice #1 is the most reasonable. It’s up to you to come to your own conclusion.