| A (Not So) Brief Defense of Christianity |
- If God Exists, How Could We Know He is There?
Survival Course Manual
A (Not So) Brief Defense of Christianity
III. If God Does Exist, How ould We Know He is There?
Herbert Spencer, an agnostic, once
pointed out that no bird ever flew out of the heavens and therefore
concluded that man cannot know God. What Spencer is saying is that
man in his finiteness, like the bird, can only go so far and no
farther. There is a ceiling, a veil which separates us from God,
and we are helpless to penetrate it from our side and find Him.
Tennessee Williams, in his drama, "Sweet
Bird of Youth," was making the same point when his character, the
Heckler, comes on stage and says, "I believe that the long
silence of God, the absolute speechlessness of Him is a long, long
and awful thing that the world is lost because of, and I think that
it is yet to be broken to any man."
These statements hit on a crucial point
of epistemology (how we know). If God does not exist, then
knowing can come to us only through one of two avenues: experience
(empiricism) or reason (rationalism).
- The Possibility of Revelation
What both of these men are saying is
simply that if God does exist, man cannot make contact with Him
through any effort of his own. But both have forgotten one other
very important possibility. If God exists and so desires, would He
be able to penetrate the veil from HIS side and make His presence
known? Of course He could. The next question would logically be,
"Has He ever done so?" Christians would answer a resounding, "Yes!"
God did so in the Person of Jesus Christ. "The Word Who was with
God and was God became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His
glory" (John 1:1,14). Theologically, this event is called the
Incarnation. If true, humans have an additional source of
- Who Was Jesus?
There have been many great and
outstanding men and women of history. But Christian and non-
Christian alike would have to agree that Jesus of Nazareth has had
the greatest and most far-reaching impact on earth than any person
who ever walked the planet. One anonymous writer said, "All the
armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the
parliaments that have ever sat, put together, have not affected
life on this planet as much as has that One Solitary
What do we really know about this Jesus?
Some think Him merely a man, the founder of a religion, like
Muhammad or Zoroaster. Others believe He lived, but His followers
embellished the story and made a god out of him. Or they postulate
that He was either a clever "con man" who purposefully engineered
His personal circumstances toward Messianic ends, or a paranoid
schizophrenic with "delusions of grandeur." Still others don't even
believe He was ever an historical person. For them Jesus is a
Before we can examine His Person, His
Work, and His extraordinary claim to be the Son of God in human
flesh, we must first determine if He every actually lived, and if
so, what can the source materials tell us about the kind of man He
was and about the things He did or said.
IV. Was Jesus a Historical Person?
Let us begin by saying that Christianity
is rooted in history. Christ's birth was counted in a Roman census,
and his death was no doubt recorded in the Roman Archives. What do
we know about Him? We are solely dependent upon the accuracy and
the validity of the sources handed down to us.
But what do we know about Julius Caesar?
Charlemagne? George Washington, or any other person of history? We
must rely on those sources which have survived and give information
concerning their lives.
- Extra-Biblical Sources
Ignoring for the moment the reliability
of the biblical documents concerning Jesus, we will examine other
sources from antiquity which verify that Jesus actually lived in
the first century.
- Jewish Sources
- Josephus (37-95 A.D.). "And
there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man . . . for he was a
doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth
with pleasure. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Greeks.
. . . And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his
impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at
first did not cease . . . and even now the tribe of Christians, so
named after him, has not yet died out."
- Rabbinical Writings. After the
fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Jewish religious scholars began to
codify the legal and theological traditions of Jewry based on the
Old Testament. The Mishnah (legal code) and the Gemera
(commentaries on the Mishnah) developed in the early A.D. centuries
to form The Talmud which was reduced from an oral tradition to
writing about 500 A.D. There are a number of statements or
allusions to Jesus and Christianity contained within. F. F. Bruce
points out that while most of these references were hostile, they
all refer without question to Jesus as a historical person. He
says, "According to the earlier Rabbis whose opinions are recorded
in these writings, Jesus of Nazareth was a transgressor in Israel,
who practiced magic, scorned the words of the wise, led the people
astray, and said he had not come to destroy the law but to add to
it. He was hanged on Passover Eve for heresy and misleading the
people. His disciples, of whom five are named, healed the sick in
- Roman Sources
- Cornelius Tacitus (55-117
A.D.). (Regarding Nero and the burning of Rome in 64 A.D.): "Hence
to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt and
punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly
called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus,
the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate,
procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius. . ." (Annals,
- Seutonius ( ). In his work,
Life of Nero, Seutonius also mentions the Christians in
conjunction with the Great Fire of Rome: "Punishment was inflicted
on the Christians, a class of men addicted to a novel and
Another possible reference to
Christians may be found in his Life of Claudius: "As the
Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of
Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."
- Pliny the Younger ( ). In
112 A.D. Pliny Secundus, governor of Bithynia in Asia, wrote to
Emperor Trajan requesting advice about how to deal with the
"Christian" problem: "they were in the habit of meeting on a
certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to
Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit
any wicked deed, but to abstain from all fraud, theft and adultery,
never to break their word, or deny a trust when called upon to
honor it; after which it was their custom to separate, and then
meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent
- Ossuaries. Hebrew University
professor E. L. Sukenik found in 1945 what he believed to be the
earliest record of Christianity: two inscriptions scratched on two
ossuaries (containers for human bones) found near Jerusalem. One
was a prayer to Jesus for help; the other prayed Jesus would raise
from the dead the person whose bones were contained therein.
- Name of Pontius Pilate. While
Josephus and Tacitus both name Pontius Pilate in their writings,
artifacts are stronger evidence. In 1971, Pilate's actual name was
found in Caesarea Maritima by archeologists. "Found in a step of
the theater, it was originally part of a nearby temple. The Latin
reads, 'Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the
people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.'
- The Cross. For Paul and the
other New Testament writers to speak of the cross as a symbol of
faith, would be the equivalent of our doing the same thing today
with the electric chair. Yet Tertullian (145-220 A.D.) speaks of
its early prominence in the Christian community: "In all travels
and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on
our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in
lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we
mark our forehead with the sign of the cross."
Without the aid of the biblical documents, we
here find a Christianity and a Jesus with which we are familiar, a
perspective that moves from "a good and wise man, a doer of
wonderful works" to one who "practiced sorcery and beguiled
and led astray Israel." From the annals of history, we know that
this man, Yeshua, underwent trial and persecution by the reigning
religious and Roman authorities (including the name of the
Procurator (Pilate) who pronounced sentence upon him), was executed
by crucifixion, and that his teachings became the foundation for a
"cult" of religious worshippers called Christians.
These sources corroborate, rather than
contradict, the Jesus portrayed in the biblical documents. We now
turn to the crucial question of how reliable these documents