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Christian Apologetics: The Historical Jesus

By Mark Copeland

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  1. Introduction.
    1. In the first lesson, a foundation was laid for Christian Apologetics, showing that the Christian faith is:
      1. An objective faith.
        1. Jesus of Nazareth is the object of that faith.
        2. Jesus is the Son of God, who died for our sins and rose from the dead.
      2. A historical faith.
        1. Based upon real people, places, and events.
        2. Actually took place in history.
      3. An intelligent, rational faith.
        1. A faith that invites people to use their minds.
        2. Historical evidence logically supports placing one's faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God.
    2. With these things in mind, we begin considering the evidence showing that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure who lived in Palestine during the first century A.D.
  2. Jesus a Historical Person.
    1. There have been skeptics who believed Jesus was a myth.
      1. This was a popular concept among some scholars in the 1800s.
        1. They were ignorant of the facts.
        2. They suppressed evidence, as was done in formerly communist-dominated countries.
    2. No serious historian (even those who are atheists) disputes that Jesus lived.
      1. H.G. Wells.
        1. An atheist, Wells spoke of Jesus in his book, Outline of History.
        2. "One is obliged to say, 'Here was a man. This part of the tale could not have been invented.'"
      2. Will Durant.
        1. Ex-professor of Philosophy of History at Columbia University.
        2. He spent two chapters in The Story of Our Civilization representing Jesus as a historical figure right along with the Caesars.
      3. Encyclopedia Britannica.
        1. Used over 20,000 words to describe Jesus.
        2. More than Aristotle, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, or Napoleon.
    3. Other evidence for a historical Jesus.
      1. Thallus (A Samaritan historian, c. A.D. 52).
        1. Wrote attempting to give a natural explanation for the darkness which occurred at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus.
        2. He did not deny the existence of Jesus.
        3. He only tried to explain away the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus.
      2. Letter of Mara-Serapion (written to his son, c. A.D. 73).
        1. He tells of the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and of Jesus.
        2. "What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their king? ... Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given."
      3. Cornelius Tacitus (Roman historian, c. A.D. 112).
        1. Wrote of Jesus in his Annals.
        2. "Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberias."
      4. Pliny the Younger.
        1. Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, c. A.D. 112.
        2. Wrote to the emperor Trajan about Christians and their devotion to Christ.
      5. Seutonius (court official and annalist under Hadrian, A.D. 120).
        1. "As the Jews were making constant disturbance at the instigation of Christus, he expelled them from Rome."
        2. Luke makes reference to this banishment in Acts 18:1-2.
    4. Among Jewish sources.
      1. The Talmud.
        1. Is two separate books dealing with Jewish law, written A.D. 100 to A.D. 500.
        2. Speaks frequently of Jesus of Nazareth in unfriendly terms, but never disputes his status.
      2. Flavius Josephus.
        1. A Jewish general turned Roman historian, born A.D. 37.
        2. Makes references to Jesus in his History of the Jews.
  3. Implications of This Evidence.
    1. The evidence proves:
      1. A solid basis upon which one can accept the fact that Jesus existed in history.
      2. It shows the shallow thinking of people who would try to mark Jesus off as a myth.
      3. It requires everyone to give some sort of answer to the questions posed by Jesus himself, "But who do you say that I am? " (Matt. 16:15).
    2. What the evidence does not do.
      1. The proof of Jesus historical existence does not, within itself, prove that Jesus is the Son of God.
      2. It does not tell us anything about Jesus except: He lived and died and did something significant to gain notoriety by the historians.
    3. To learn more of Jesus we must look elsewhere.
      1. There have been many fanciful stories about Jesus.
      2. Christians consider the 27 books known as the New Testament to be the only reliable source of information about Jesus.
      3. Is the New Testament a historical document?
      4. Can we be sure that in our Bibles we have what was written by the original authors?

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Published November 1995