IS JESUS JUST GOOD OR IS HE GOD?
For many people who have grown up in the church during the modern era, it has been taken for granted that Jesus is divine. However, we are now in the postmodern era where everything is questioned.
Many people outside of the church are skeptical as to whether Jesus actually existed at all. For those who believe he did, many question whether he was really God or not. Even many inside the church today, and even some of the most devout followers of Christianity quietly question whether Jesus was just good or was he God?
The postmodern era has created a vacuum of uncertainty and skepticism about God, Jesus, the bible and Christianity. Filling this vacuum have been many liberal or skeptical scholars, television programs on channels such as the History channel or Discovery channel questioning whether Jesus was God or not, movies such as the Da Vinci Code and the Jesus Seminar group.
While we can’t prove emphatically that Jesus lived, taught, died and rose again after death as God’s Son, I want to share with you some thought-provoking evidence that will challenge you and cause you to make a decision about whether Jesus was real or not; and whether He was just good or was He God?
The same way we believe Africa is a real place in our world, even if we haven’t been there, is the way we would come to believe in Jesus’ reality. Though we haven’t set foot in Africa, we believe it is there because we have enough evidence that allows us to make a reasonable deduction that it exists. We have seen it on maps, we have seen pictures and we have talked with people who have been there. Though we didn’t see it ourselves, we believe Africa is a real place because of the data. I want to give you similar data from the ancient world that would suggest that Jesus not only existed as a real person (the historical Jesus), but is also God.
While the skeptical scholars steal the headlines with provocative thoughts and opinions such as “Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene”, “Jesus was gay”, “Jesus really had a secret life” or that “He was made up by the early church” for their own agenda; these scholars only make up a small portion of scholarship that study the history of Christianity.
There are three groups of scholars. At one end are the skeptics, as mentioned above. At the other end are the evangelical scholars who are deep men and women of faith in Christ. It could be said that both of these groups are biased in opposite directions.
But then there is the much larger group of scholars in the middle referred to as the mainstream scholars. They have less of an agenda to promote than either of the other two groups, so they have fewer biases. Yet, it is this group that looks at the empirical data from early Christianity and based on the data, most of these scholars agree that the person of Jesus definitely existed and that the earliest Christians worshipped Jesus as God.
So while the skeptical scholars steal the headlines with dramatic statements, it is the unbiased mainstream scholars who point us best to the evidence that suggests that Jesus was not only historical, but that people related to Him as God.
Non Christian Sources Confirm the Basics of the Gospels
Jesus is mentioned at least eleven times outside of “Christian writings and sources. This is more significant than you might imagine. To those of us living in the twenty-first century or who have spent much of our life in the church, Jesus is a huge figure of history. In fact, from our perspective today, He has done more to shape our world in more ways than any person in history. But during his days on earth while He walked the dusty land in Palestine, He was nothing more than a fringe person living in the shadow of Rome and the Jewish religion.
Both Tacitus (114AD) and Josephus (90AD) who are non-Christian sources, mention Jesus as a healer and teacher who was crucified by the Romans and was known throughout the land as the “Christ.”
There is very clear historical and scholarly evidence to suggest that Jesus really did exist; and that much of the accounts from the Gospels as to Him being a healer and teacher is accurate.
The New Testament is a Collection of Sources
Though the New Testament is one complete volume for us today as a part of the Bible, it wasn’t originally in this form. Original documents were written and circulated independently. In other words, when Paul was writing, he didn’t confer with James or Mark or other known writers of the New Testament. Likewise, each of the Gospel writers didn’t sit down with each other to write their accounts.
Rather, each writer wrote their own accounts. Several used other common sources such as Q that were circulating at the time after Jesus’ death. This is an important element in the authenticity of the person of Jesus.
The more independent sources that were in circulation and were used by the Gospel writers shows us that these non-Christian, independent sources were stating virtually the same things about Jesus.
This gives greater plausibility to the portrait of Jesus described in the Gospels. Take for example if you hear a bizarre story from one friend, you may tend not to believe it, but if several other friends confirm it, you are more likely to believe it.
And this same principle holds for the Gospels – the more sources saying similar things about Jesus, increases the validity of their writings to be the truth about Jesus.
The New Testament was Written Earlier Than Other Writings
It was not unusual in the ancient world for biographies of famous people to be written hundreds of years after their death. This, of course, increased the chances of what was written to be less than accurate. So, the closer biographies were written to the time of a person’s life, the greater chance it would depict a more accurate account of their lives.
When using this principle, you can see how the accounts of Jesus have a much better chance of being accurate than some other well-known figures in the ancient world. Let’s look at three:
- Mohammed – his biography was written 125 years after his death, then it was edited for another 50 years and was finally circulated around about 175 years after his death
- Buddha – (Siddhartha Gautama 448BC – 368BC) – records of his life were written about 350 years after his death
- Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37) – Tacitus’ biography of his life is considered to be the most historical account and he didn’t write it until AD114
You can see from the above example that Tiberius’ biography (who lived at the time of Jesus) was written at least 70 years after his reign, while the Gospels were written within 20-40 years after Jesus’ death with many of the independent sources used by the writers only months or a few years after His death.
For example, the creed used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is dated to being written only a few months after the death of Jesus. What this tells us is two things:
(1) The Gospel accounts are not mere legends or myths that grew over the years – but rather were established very early and the content remained consistent and constant, even into the modern era
(2) If the data is clear that the independent sources used by the Gospel writers were within months and a few years after Jesus’ death; and the Gospels themselves were written and completed by around 70AD (the synoptic gospels were written around 40-60AD with John being written probably around 70AD, at the latest around 90AD), this means that other writings such as the Gnostic Gospels (Gospel of Thomas, Judas and many others) were written much later because they are dated at the earliest around 110AD.
So, what all this means is that the Gospels are a much more credible source for the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Christ than documents written much later.
Archeology Confirms the Gospel Accounts
While archeology doesn’t confirm everything in the Old Testament or New Testament, it is confirming and authenticating more and more of both testaments over time. In recent years, the pool referenced in John 5, that for years was thought to have been made up by the writer, has now been verified to be a real pool in Jesus’ day.
Also, the Pool of Siloam, referenced in John 9:1-11, that was also thought to not really exist, has also been verified as a real pool in Jesus’ day by archeology.
Further, in Megiddo, Israel, findings from the earliest known church, show that the people there worshipped Jesus as God.
None of these prove that Jesus was divine, but it is the type of evidence one would expect to find if the Gospels are true.
The writer of John’s Gospel makes it clear what his purpose for writing was:
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name
This is the clear intent of the Gospels – this is why they were written so people would believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. And while the above points don’t prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, it gives us substantial data upon which to make a thoughtful decision based on the evidence rather than on “blind faith.”
Each person must decide for themselves what they believe and what they will trust in and build their lives upon. But what these points do show, is that there is a preponderance of evidence for you to base your decision upon.
But before we leave this topic, we need to introduce one more thought – and that is, that people form their beliefs on more than just rational data or what seem to be hard, cold facts.
Aristotle (384-322BC), the great Greek thinker, said people form beliefs based on three things:
- Logos (intellect)
- Pathos (emotions)
- Ethos (social environment)
Given this, people form their beliefs about Christ based on the above three. Some will turn to Christ and some will turn away from Christ. I think it is important for people to have the data and archeological evidence to base their beliefs upon, but they also need more.
A person may conclude that Jesus really did live and that He was divine based on the evidence. But if this doesn’t connect with them emotionally and socially, it will never take root. In other words, until people feel the love and forgiveness of the Christ that died for them; and unless they feel the acceptance of Christ's’ followers (the church), just intellectual knowledge alone won’t bring them into an eternal relationship with God through Christ. Their hearts have to be touched and moved as well.
As we conclude, I hope you take time to consider the data that has been presented here based on history and archeology. This gives you the basis to make an informed decision rather than trying to build your faith on a fairy tale. But I also hope you will take one more step and see how the Jesus of history can impact your life and touch your heart.
By: Jack Guyler