by J Warner Wallace
For over two thousand years, seekers and believers have examined the person of Jesus in an effort to understand who He was and what He said about Himself. All of us, whether we are believers or not, believe something about the man named Jesus. Did He really live? Was He just a man? Is He God? Christianity describes Jesus as more than simply a wise teacher or inspired prophet, and what we believe about Jesus defines us as Christians. Those who believe Jesus is the eternal, uncreated Creator of the Universe are within the Christian family; those who think He is something less may be theists, but they aren’t Christian theists. As we examine the claims of the Christian Scripture, let’s step toward the Biblical Jesus and consider some of the possibilities as we examine some of the groups who hold to differing views about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth:
1. Is He A Real Man?
Before we can begin to examine the claims Christianity makes about Jesus, we’ll have to examine the historicity of Jesus and decide if He ever truly lived.
Jesus was a real person. He existed in history. He was as human as you or me. People who accept this first level of understanding about Jesus are simply acknowledging He was a real historical person.
This claim is based on the strength of the eyewitness accounts (known as Gospels) and on the secondary secular accounts of historians who recorded the subsequent movement in the 1st Century called “Christianity”. The Gospel writers claimed they were simply recording their eyewitness observations:
2 Peter 1:16-17
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
1 John 1:1-2
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
Non-Christian accounts also report on the person of Jesus and the movement resulting from Jesus’ life. The following writers recorded the historicity of Jesus and His followers:
Pliny the Younger (61-113AD)
Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD)
Lucian of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.)
Many challenge the historicity of Jesus. A growing number of atheists claim Jesus never actually lived and was simply a re-fabrication of prior mythologies such as Mithras. These doubters typically challenge the reliability of the Gospels eyewitness accounts, although much can be offered as evidence the accounts are timely and accurate.
In addition, many skeptics argue there are no contemporary early non-Christian eyewitness accounts dating back to the lifetime of Jesus. The only eyewitness records we have are from men who became followers of Jesus, and they simply don’t trust these Christian writers. But the eyewitnesses who observed Jesus so closely (those men who witnessed his life, teachings and miracles) were so convinced by what they saw they eventually became followers of Jesus. In essence, those who saw came to believe. It would be unfair to discard their testimony. Many (such as Matthew) began without a presuppositional bias toward Jesus, but were impressed by what they saw in their time with Jesus. As a result, they came to believe Jesus was who He said He was. The life, ministry death and resurrection of Jesus became the foundation for their own transformation from skeptic to believer; they were not biased beforehand, but convinced afterward.
Some critics also argue the appearance of Jesus did not draw the kind of attention it should have if He was in fact, the Savior of mankind. Why do we only have four eyewitness accounts? Why aren’t there more? Why wasn’t there more of a ripple effect in recorded history? Shouldn’t’ there have been more written about Him? As it turns out, there was quite a bit more written about Him. The appearance of Jesus did cause quite a stir in recorded history. In fact, in addition to the trustworthy eyewitness accounts, an incredible amount of legend arose around the figure of Jesus. For many years following His life, this legend continued to grow and hundreds of documents were written about Him. There are many non-canonical gospels and legendary tales, just as we would expect. When a legendary figure appears on the landscape of history, legend begins to appear alongside the truth. This is what we should expect if Jesus actually lived and did what the Gospels claim…
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