Was Jesus a Real Person? Part 8

Remarkably, Jesus made all of this impact as a result of just a three-year period of public ministry. If Jesus didn’t exist, one must wonder how a myth could so alter history. When world historian H. G. Wells was asked who has left the greatest legacy on history, he replied, “By this test Jesus stands first.”13

Documentary evidence and historical impact point to the fact that Jesus did exist. If Jesus did really exist, we also would expect to discover his footprints imprinted within the details of history. Myths don’t leave such confirming details.

One of the keys here for Durant and other scholars is the time factor. Myths and legends usually take hundreds of years to evolve—the story of George Washington never telling a lie was probably a lie, until two centuries turned it into legend. News of Christianity, on the other hand, spread too quickly to be attributed to a myth or legend. Had Jesus not existed, those who opposed Christianity would certainly have labeled him a myth from the outset. But they didn’t.

Such evidence, along with the early written accounts and the historical impact of Jesus Christ, convince even skeptical historians that the founder of Christianity was neither myth nor legend. But one expert on myths wasn’t so sure.

Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis was initially convinced that Jesus was nothing more than a myth. Lewis once stated, “All religions, that is, all mythologies … are merely man’s own invention—Christ as much as Loki.”15 (Loki is an old Norse god. Like Thor, but without the ponytail.)

Ten years after denouncing Jesus as a myth, Lewis discovered that historical details, including several eyewitness documents, verify his existence.

Jesus Christ has impacted history’s landscape like a massive earthquake. And this earthquake has left a trail wider than the Grand Canyon. It is this trail of evidence that convinces scholars that Jesus really did exist and really did impact our world 2,000 years ago.

Read part 9 of “Was Jesus a Real Person?”

Was Jesus a Real Person? Part 9

One skeptic who thought Jesus was a myth was British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. But on a television assignment to Israel, Muggeridge was faced with evidence about Jesus Christ that he didn’t know existed. As he checked out historical places—Jesus’ birthplace of Bethlehem, the town of Nazareth, the crucifixion site, and the empty tomb—a sense of Jesus’ reality began to emerge.

Later he stated

“It was while I was in the Holy Land for the purpose of making three B.B.C. television programmes on the New Testament that a … certainty seized me about Jesus’ birth, ministry and Crucifixion. … I became aware that there really had been a man, Jesus, who was also God.”14

Some German higher-critical scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries had questioned Jesus’ existence, pointing out that such key figures as Pontius Pilate and the chief priest Joseph Caiaphas in the Gospel accounts had never been confirmed as real. No rebuttal was possible until the mid-20th century.

Archaeologists in 1962 confirmed Pilate’s existence when they discovered his name included in an inscription on an excavated stone. Likewise, the existence of Caiaphas was uncertain until 1990, when an ossuary (bone box) was discovered bearing his inscription. Archaeologists have also discovered what they believe to be Simon Peter’s house and a cave where John the Baptist did his baptizing.

Finally, perhaps the most convincing historical evidence that Jesus existed was the rapid rise of Christianity. How can it be explained without Christ? How could this group of fishermen and other workingmen invent Jesus in a scant few years? Durant answered his own introductory question—did Christ exist?—with the following conclusion:

That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.

Read Part 10 of “Was Jesus a Real Person?”

Was Jesus a Real Person? Part 10

Scholars’ Verdict

Clifford Herschel Moore, professor at Harvard University, remarked of Jesus’ historicity, “Christianity knew its Saviour and Redeemer not as some god whose history was contained in a mythical faith. … Jesus was a historical not a mythical being. No remote or foul myth obtruded itself on the Christian believer; his faith was founded on positive, historical, and acceptable facts.”16

Few if any serious historians agree with Ellen Johnson’s and Bertrand Russell’s assertions that Jesus didn’t exist. The extensive documentation of Jesus’ life by contemporary writers, his profound historical impact, and the confirming tangible evidence of history have persuaded scholars that Jesus really did exist. Could a myth have done all that? All but a few extremely skeptical scholars say no.

Dr. Michael Grant of Cambridge has written, “To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars.’ In recent years ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.’ ”17

Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan declared, “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. … It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that millions pray.”18

This article was reprinted with permission from Y-Jesus Magazine.

End Notes

  1. Ellen Johnson and Larry King, “What Happens After We Die?” Larry King Live, CNN, April 14, 2005.
  2. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 16.
  3. Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, vol. 3 of The Story of Civilization (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 553.
  4. Ibid., 557.
  5. D. James Kennedy, Skeptics Answered (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1997), 76.
  6. The Gemaras are early rabbinical commentaries of the Jewish Talmud, a body of theological writings, dated a.d. 200–500.6 Quoted in Durant, 554.
  7. Quoted in D. James Kennedy, Skeptics Answered, (Sisters Oregon: Multnomah Publishers Inc., 1997), 73.
  8. Quoted in Durant, 281.
  9. Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2001), 269.
  10. Quoted in Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, vol. 1 (Nashville: Nelson, 1979), 87.
  11. Quoted in Christopher Lee, This Sceptred Isle, 55 B.C.–1901 (London: Penguin, 1997), 1.
  12. Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York: Pocket, 1961), 428.
  13. Quoted in Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957), 163.
  14. Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered (Bungay, Suffolk, U.K.: Fontana, 1969), 8.
  15. David C. Downing, The Most Reluctant Convert (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 57.
  16. Quoted in McDowell, 193.
  17. Michael Grant, Jesus (London: Rigel, 2004), 200.
  18. Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 1

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