Friday, November 4, 2016

Did Jesus Really Exist?

Was Jesus a real person? Did he really live in Israel approximately two thousand years ago? How do we know what Jesus really said and did?

Lee Strobal was an investigative journalist before he became a Christian. Instead of looking for scientific proof of God’s existence, he decided to approach the question the same way an investigative journalist would approach a crime he wanted to solve. His search was for legal proof that could establish a case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In his book The Case for Christ he interviews top scholars concerning historical proof for the claims of Christ.

Strobal asks, “How do we know anything about the past?” How do we know that George Washington crossed the Delaware, or that Plato really lived? None of us were alive back then. Our knowledge of history must rely upon historical reports.

In the case of Washington and Plato, we rely on writings that tell us about their lives. Even though we never saw them ourselves, we can judge the reliability of eyewitness reports about them. Scholars believe Washington existed because they believe the reports that were written about his life.

In the case of Jesus, we have four different reports that have been written about his life by people who were eyewitnesses or who interviewed eyewitnesses about his life. These four reports (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are known as the Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospels because they contain much of the same material. This material (known by scholars as the Q material), may have come directly from the pen of someone who wrote down Jesus’ words as he spoke them. Perhaps Matthew, a well-educated tax collector, kept a notebook of Jesus’ sayings.

The book of John was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He personally walked and talked with Jesus. He saw the miracles with his own eyes.

Luke was a trained physician and a careful historian who investigated the life of Jesus. He wrote the book of Luke and the book of Acts that details the history of the early church. He traveled with the apostle Paul and it is likely that as he traveled he personally interviewed eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. This is how Luke explains his careful historical research: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4 NIV).

It is likely that Luke interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus. Of the Gospel writers, he is the one who gives the most detailed account of the Nativity. He mentions Mary twelve times, more then any of the other Gospel writers and he includes the story of Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, who gives birth to John the Baptist. His detailed writing indicates that he had access to a primary source.

Luke accurately records details about the people, places, dates, and events that he writes about. The famous archaeologist, Sir William Ramsay, traveled to Asia Minor in order to prove that Luke was an inferior historian; however, after retracing the steps of Paul’s journeys, he concluded,  “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense; in short, this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians”[1] A.N. Sherwin-White, looked at Luke's references to 32 countries, 54 cities, and nine islands, and found no mistakes.[2] [3] If Luke was careful to accurately record names, places, and dates, we can be confident that he was also accurate in recording the miraculous details of Jesus’ life. If Luke was accurate in the areas we can check, then this indicates a strong possibility that he was also accurate in the areas we cannot check.

So, after carefully examining the evidence of the four accounts about the life of Jesus, it can be said with great certainty (beyond a reasonable doubt) that Jesus really lived, he preached, he performed miracles, he died, and he rose from the dead.

[1] Ramsey, Sir William M. The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. Hodder & Stoughton, 1915.  (Sir William Ramsay, 81, 222)
[2] Geisler, Norman. Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, 47.