Why the Debate over Christian Origins Matter
by Eric Chabot
Over the years I have studied a good deal about the birth of the Christian faith. When I mean “birth” I mean the rise of the Jesus movement pre 70 a.d. I am well aware that many people view Christianity through the events of the Council of Nicaea or at a much later date than 70 a.d. There is still an ongoing debate as to when we actually have an “official” Christianity. Anyway, I have always found the period of 33 a.d to 70 a.d to be immensely important for the following reasons:
First, we still have the skeptic community preaching that the Jesus story is just a rip off of other religious stories or the result of some sort of religious syncretism. In other words, supposedly there is nothing original about the Jesus story! Secondly, we have people like Bart Ehrman writing books like Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew which causes great confusion in the minds of many people.
On top of that, we then have the sensationalist works of writers like Dan Brown and others that are also leading many astray. Also, both Orthodox and many conservative Jews and Muslims all say the entire divine Messiah/God man story is idolatry! So it could not be more apparent that knowing the details of how a Jewish sect emerged into a world religion such as Christianity does matter! So let me mention a couple of issues that are very pertinent to this topic.
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#1: The Crucified Messiah
Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar says the following:
Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if not follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus. (1)
Atheist Gerd Ludemann even says, “Jesus death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable” (2) For the disciple of Jesus it is common to view His death as a means of providing “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Col. 1:22) to God and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15). Jesus is also referred to as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19).
Therefore, it can’t be stated more strongly that one of the central truths of the Christian faith is that Jesus died for the sins of mankind. But while the Christian community has long taken the death of Jesus to be instrumental to the message of the Gospel, they have not understood the challenge of proclaiming a dead Messiah in the first century. Therefore, it is even more incredible that the New Testament authors would ever invent a crucified Messiah story that is not rooted in historical reality…
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