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by Colin Green
First question. Is there a case to answer? Is there any reason to think that there really was a man called Jesus who influenced the religion of Judea in the first century AD, some 2000 years ago, and who is remembered as Jesus Christ? How will we begin to answer that? How close can we get to really knowing anything about it? Are there any first-hand eyewitness reports, and do they even begin to get to close to knowing? The answer is, yes, closer than you might think.
Our first undisputed first-hand eyewitness actually gets us right back to the decade in which Jesus was supposed to have gone public with his mission in Judea and died. The decade is the thirties of the first century. The funny thing is that so many people don’t even notice that fact. This eyewitness, to be fair, doesn’t claim to have seen Jesus walking around Galilee or anything like that. But he says he met people whose religion was influenced by Jesus back in those days. The eyewitness says he was hostile to them because of their attitude to Jewish life and religion. This important eyewitness, with his first-hand account of life in the 30s, is known to Christians as Saint Paul.
Sharp-thinking readers will have spotted already that the big question is not really about Paul, but about those people Paul knew back in the 30s. What did they know about this Jesus, and why was Jesus important to them? What does Paul say about them? We want to know, given that Paul actually met them. He can tell us direct whom he met.
Since this is also going to be about Jesus, you might have thought I would have started with what is in the gospels. But that would be jumping the gun. Because, first, it’s important that we make our judgment call about whether there is actually anything to be bothered about, whether there is a real historical thing that the gospels might help us to understand…
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