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The Historical Jesus

Friday, April 05, 2024

For most of the world, Jesus is just another guy. Perhaps a wise guy. Perhaps a charismatic, gifted, insightful guy. But the world, at best, places Jesus alongside all the other wise guys and gals of history.

In a recent conversation, a friend of mine was surprised to discover I believe in a historical Jesus; I believe He was a flesh-and-blood man who actually accomplished all the things we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

A number of reasons lead me to this conclusion. One is historical. Even if you discount the biblical accounts as non-historical, extra-biblical references to Christ and the early Christians certainly exist.


Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian born just a few years after Jesus' death, wrote copiously of his people's history in two major volumes: The Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews. (See his works online or pick up a copy. It's good stuff!) He lived to see his precious Jerusalem fall by Titus' hand in A.D. 70. Included in his history are a few references to Christ (he was not a Christian), John the Baptist, and James (brother of Jesus and elder in Jerusalem).

The most explicit reference is this:

(63) Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; (64) and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities 18.3.3--which means book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3--emphasis mine, NW)

This reference to James also mentions Jesus:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned; (Antiquities 20.9.1--emphasis mine, NW)

For a reference to John the Baptist, see Antiquities 18.5.2

Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that 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; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him.

Cornelius Tacitus

Born in the first century (in the early 50s), Tacitus became a well-respected early-second-century historian, writing his Annals around A.D. 110. Emperor Nero had, in A.D. 64, burned Rome to the ground, but then had attempted to pin the atrocity on Christians, using them as scapegoats of a sort. Tacitus records the deeds Nero did to Christians at the time:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. (Annals Book XV--emphasis mine, NW)

Ponder these ancient words from men who were certainly not Christians; more often they were anti-Christian. There seems to have been no doubt in their minds that such a man as Jesus actually did live and that he had been killed by crucifixion. Naturally they did not believe He rose from the dead. But who could believe such an outrageous thing?

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,


Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1.18-25)


Pliny the Younger

Pliny is called "the younger" because he is Pliny Junior, son of Pliny the Elder. He wrote many letters which have been preserved for posterity, and one is addressed to Emperor Trajan circa A.D. 112 concerning his dealings with Christians in his area. Following is his letter and the emperor's reply.

This does not assert that Christ really lived, but it does show the early existence of the Christians and their incredible faith until death.

Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ—none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do—these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food—but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny the Younger

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it—that is, by worshiping our gods—even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

While these letters do not directly deal with the historicity of Jesus, they do show a large number a men and women who were so convinced of His reality they were willing to die for Him. And this was a mere 80 years after Jesus' death.

Lucian of Samosata

Lucian was a satirist around A.D. 170. He showed himself hostile against Christians, which makes his testimony in Passing of Peregrinus concerning them quite believable. Lucian's protagonist Perigrinus was a philosopher who decided to take advantage of some gullible Christians (in his satirical story):


11.    “It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine.   And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.


13.   “Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succour and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all.  So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.

Lucian's testimony is over 100 years after Christ's death, but he exposes the believes of the Christians, at least, of his time, which was that the man Christ actually lived. He calls Jesus "the man who was crucified in Palestine" and "their first lawgiver" and "that crucified sophist himself."

The Painter Has Communicated with His Art

Monday, September 04, 2023

You cannot prove God exists using the scientific method. If God created all material things, He exists outside of the universe as we know it. The painter does not dwell within his painting.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11.3)

Atheists often demand we prove God from science, and they claim anything we cannot prove from science does not exist—which, we should reply, is absolutely, obviously, inherently false. We all know some things which exist in the real world but which we cannot detect or prove with science. I’ll give these two: Morality (good and evil / justice) and Logic (reality and truth).

Morality Exists. Therefore, God Exists.

PaintingIf there is an ought—a real right and wrong—in this world, then there is a standard of authority. Where does that standard of authority come from? We have only two options: from heaven or from men.

Is evil real? Do we have a right to insist that murder and rape are wrong? By what standard? Who gets to make those rules? Is rape wrong just because some men got together and wrote a law? Is it wrong just because I think it’s wrong inside my brain? If man—either individually or collectively—decides morality, then no absolute standard of morality exists. One group believes it’s okay to rape while another believes it’s abhorrent. In the absence of an objective standard, who’s to say which is right?

If we say rape and murder are objectively and always wrong, we admit to a standard of ethics outside of man and mankind. Where did that come from? The One True God is the best explanation.

Scientists cannot account for love. Why would a father protect his son with his life? The evolutionist says it’s an inbred evolutionary response meant to protect the human species. But doesn’t evolution teach “survival of the fittest”? In this situation, the father would be the fittest and the son would be weakest, so why does the stronger give his life for the weaker? And why do all fathers everywhere nod their heads and agree he did the noble and right thing?

More generally, why do the strong care for the weak? Why do we have a moral tug in our hearts to stand against bullies and thieves?

Society says we should treat one another with respect, no matter our station in life, how much money we have, how strong we are, etc. In fact, we expect those with more to help more. This is what the government appeals to when they say the rich should “pay their fair share.” While this is a bully tactic of government to take money from the people, they are appealing to the standard of love we all know to be true. We all believe the rich have a higher responsibility to help the poor. (Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor doesn’t correct anything, morally speaking.)

Logic Exits. Therefore, God Exists.

We expect the sun and moon and stars to always be where they always have been. We expect the thing we throw into the air to come back down. We expect a chicken’s offspring to be another chicken. Our world demonstrates coherence, reason, and consistency. We can understand this world and explain many things in terms of mathematics, cause and effect, and scientific laws. There’s a reason why many great scientists have been believers—they believed in a rational God who created an orderly world. The atheistic evolutionist cannot explain why water always runs downhill. They believe in the law of gravity, but they don’t understand why the law exists.

Because things happen in orderly ways on this earth, we can reason from observable facts to make educated guesses and then test those guesses, refining them, and discovering more about this world. Albert Einstein shocked the world with his mathematical theorems, many of which turned out to accurately describe reality around us. How did he do it? He depended upon consistency in the natural order of things.

If laws exist, there must be a Lawgiver. Whoever knew a rule made by no one? Scientists do not make the rules; they merely discover and describe them.

Atheists claim that no one knows anything for certain. The so-called “rules” we know today might not be correct, but they are the best way of describing the natural world. Just because scientists don’t know things for certain doesn’t mean constant natural laws do not exist. It is good to realize the limitations of man’s ability to discover and describe reality, but only irrational fools claim reality does not exist.

He Exists!

We cannot measure God on our scales or see Him with the most powerful telescope or microscope. He created all the things we study with those instruments. We who live inside His painting are seeking Him in the brush strokes and colors. “Prove there is a painter,” the skeptic says. “I don’t see Him anywhere in this world.” That’s because He is not in this world. He made this world.

Though we cannot see Him, evidence of His handwork, design, and artistry lies all around. The moral laws and the natural laws around us lead us to know that Someone spoke those laws into existence long ago. Praise God, He has spoken and explained many things to us through His revealed word. The Painter has communicated with His art.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11.6)

Exposing the Myth of Neutrality

Monday, November 07, 2022

Child-centric parenting has been the rage over the last couple of decades. An article extracted from Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting is presented online entitled “Let Our Children Decide for Themselves.” The author says, “Our fundamental position should be to allow children to make decisions about things that affect them.” Kohn ends with: “Give them as many choices as possible.”

Many parents have incorporated this parenting methodology, including when teaching their kids about religion. They want the little children to decide for themselves one day, so they don’t want to tell them what religion to choose. They want to remain neutral in their parenting, they say.

These same parents, presumably, do not remain neutral when their child chooses to go naked to preschool or steal Grandma’s iPhone. But they want to remain neutral on what to believe about eternal salvation or damnation. Makes sense, right?

We have been told we should expect this neutrality from our schools. Miss Frizzle should not hold one moral position or another. She should only teach math, science, history, etc. Just the facts, Ma’am. Leave your moral worldview at home.

Professors at major universities—religious departments included—tell their students they give all sides of arguments equal weight and examination so the brilliant young men and women can make up their own minds. I recall the professor in my moral philosophy class at UAB attempted this. He would present the facts of some moral issue or another but would never say if it was a true or false argument. He tried to present all arguments as potentially having equal weight and value. I did not understand at the time that his worldview was pluralism, the assertion that there is no absolute moral truth but that all moral reasonings can be considered true at the same time. In his attempts to stay neutral with morality, he exposed his worldview of pluralism. He taught us we should (a moral statement) consider all moral reasonings as equally valid. One of my moral reasonings was that his moral reasoning spawned from the depths of hell. Make those compatible, Sir.

What are the problems with neutrality? The most glaring issue is…it’s impossible to remain neutral. Everyone takes a position, and everyone starts from some truth platform. Even the pluralist, who says all moral teachings are true, is making a truth statement. The fact that some take an opposite moral position (asserting all moral positions cannot be true at the same time) invalidates pluralism because it shows there is at least one position which cannot logically coexist with it. Of course, to hold the pluralist’s worldview, one must abandon logic.

Does God Want Us in Neutral?

Should we “fairly” examine all the evidence before we make up our minds? The young man who has never examined his faith gets to college, and his professor says, “You’ve never fairly examined what you believe. You need to act as if you don’t believe it for a while and examine all these other religions to make sure you are believing in the right thing.” This makes sense to the young man, and he abandons his faith for a while…perhaps forever. Was that fair of the professor? No, he was fighting dirty.

This may sound counterintuitive, but I’ll ask anyway: “What does God say about this?” Immediately, someone calls foul: “You can’t ask that question because first you have to figure out if there is a God before you can ask what He would say about things.” Here is the muddle mess. I already believe in God, and I already believe the Bible is His word. I have good reasons for believing this: (1) the Word itself is accurate, internally consistent, powerful in content and (2) by it, my life has been radically changed for the better. I have come to know God through His word. I will go to that word to see how God would have me interact with this world.

Does God tell me to have blind faith? No. Does He tell me to test the spirits? Yes, but I’m to test them to see if they are from God (1 John 4.1). If they are not from Him, I’m to reject them. Does He tell me to test everything? Yes, but I’m to test everything and hold fast to what is good (1 Thes. 5.20-21). That implies a standard by which to measure everything and categorize them as “good” or “bad.” God’s word provides the standard.

I find in Jude 3 that God wants me to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” To contend earnestly is to fight with a passion, and Christians are called to fight for the faith. We are not to abandon the faith and try out everything else to see what else might be true. We are to hold fast the faith and fight for it. This includes instilling the faith in our children.

Peter said we should “be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3.15). This includes the schoolteacher or university professor who challenges us to “objectively” step away from our faith and examine it with all the questions and criticisms they hand us. We should be ready to give them a reason for the hope that is in us.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 that Christ has given the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers who teach the word of God in such a way that the church will mature, and “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” God would have us grounded firmly in our faith, absolutely assured of the hope that is within us by the power of Christ and His Holy Spirit.

Our weapons are not fleshly (2 Cor. 10.4-5). We fight against arguments and opinions which are raised against the knowledge of God. We must first bring our own thoughts captive to Christ. Then we fight against the false reasonings around us. We are to love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind.

The Purpose of Education

Education should teach us how to think rightly, how to defend the faith, how to rightly divide the word of truth, how to understand the world, how to fight correctly against the powers of the other side.

But isn’t education about getting a job and making a living and supporting a family? The world would have us believe that is the main purpose, but they know it’s not! The forces we fight against are cunning and crafty—they have taken the mention of God out of our schools and convinced many that it's not a big deal. After all, the schools should remain neutral on religion because we are a pluralistic nation. It wouldn’t be fair to rank any one religion as more valuable or virtuous than another, right? So they say, “We’ll just teach math and history and science and reading – don’t worry, we won’t teach religion.”

But they do. Humanism is religious to its core. Religious thought drives the theory of macro evolution.

Neutrality is a myth. We must expose the wolves who teach it by stripping them of their sheep-wool cloaks. No one can or should remain neutral, and Christians should not fall victim to this false teaching.

God does not want us to study in neutral. He does not want us to parent in neutral (Eph. 6.1-4). He wants us fully engaged with our faith in the spiritual fight. He wants us to take up the whole armor He has prepared for us and for us to use it!

Remember, that armor includes a sword.