Historical Proof for the Existence of Jesus (Powell)

 Some of us might have friends, family, or colleagues that reject Christianity.  There are many reasons people reject the Christian faith – that’s a huge topic!  One reason (humanly speaking) that people reject Christianity is because they don’t believe it has any solid historical basis.  They may view the stories of the Bible as myth or a twisted form of history.  Or they might not believe that Jesus of Nazareth really existed.

If you know someone who doubts the existence of Jesus, it might be helpful to show this skeptic some historical evidence that proves as much.  Using tact, love, and proper timing, proving the historicity of Jesus might cause a skeptic to doubt his or her doubt.  On this topic, Doug Powell gives some helpful notes.  He gives proof of Jesus’ existence from some ancient texts that are neither Christian nor pro-Christian:

Here’s an excerpt from the Roman historian Tacitus (d. 117AD) which mentions Christ and Christians:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Here’s a letter from Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan written around 110AD:

I have asked them if they are Christians and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and their unshakable obstinancy ought not to go unpunished.… They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: that they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery.… This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture of two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.

Finally, here are some words from the second century Greek writer Lucian:

(Christians) still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.… The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence.

Powell then summarized these early sources proving the historicity of Christ and early Christianity:

Just from the… citations quoted above we see that Jesus was a real person who lived in Palestine during the time of Tiberius and Pontius Pilate. He had a reputation for working wonders and teaching radical doctrine. He was worshiped as God. His followers met on a certain day of the week and exhibited an extreme devotion, even to the point of enduring torture and welcoming death. There was a communal culture that cared for the welfare of all believers. His followers were bound by oath to adhere to a high ethical standard.

All of these things, written by neutral parties at best, corroborate the New Testament. And many other ancient non-Christian writings join these in supporting the history documented in the New Testament.

Doug Powell, Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2006), 167.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Genesis, History, and Morality (Schaeffer)

 If a person denies the factual historicity of Genesis 1-3 that person has cut himself or herself off from some of the major truths of biblical Christianity.  Others have explained this well: if you deny the fact that Adam was a historical human being, you are far out of step with Jesus’ teaching (Mt. 19:5) and the apostle Paul’s (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22).  It is not a Christian position to believe that Adam was a mythical figure.  Denying the historicity of Adam and Eve opens the door to many theological problems.  Francis Schaeffer expanded on this and said denying Genesis 1-3 also leads to moral problems:

There was a time before the fall, and then man turned from his proper integration point by choice, and in so doing, there was a moral discontinuity; man became abnormal.  Remove that and the Christian answer in the area of morals is gone.  Often I find evangelicals playing games with the first half of Genesis.  But if you remove a true, historic, space-time fall, the answers are finished.  It is not only that historic, biblical Christianity as it stands in the stream of history is gone, but every answer we possess in the area of morals in the area of man and his dilemma, is gone.

Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 35

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Historical Exodus: Essential For Christian Theology

Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture The historical nature of the Exodus is of utmost importance in Scripture and for the Christian faith.  Modern critics have questioned, doubted, and denied the historical nature of the Exodus for more than a few years, and in light of this, it is important for Christians to understand and uphold the Bible’s teaching that the Exodus was an historical event.

James Hoffmeier defends this claim in his excellent essay, “Why A Historical Exodus is Essential for Theology.”  Hoffmeier’s main point is this:

“The exodus and wilderness narratives are central to OTT (Old Testament Theology), and that without them, the tapestry of Israel’s faith and the foundational fabric of Christianity unravels.”  …These events stand at the heart of Israel’s religious life, as evidenced by the fact that these themes are ubiquitous throughout the Old Testament itself. (p. 106, 111).

Hoffmeier goes on to give some detail on the various ways and times the Exodus theme shows up in the OT.  Here’s a brief summary:

1) God’s self-disclosure often refers to the Exodus (Ex. 20:2, Lev 19:36, 25:34, Num. 15:41, Deut 5:6, Ps 81:10, Hos. 12:9, etc.).  Many times in the OT God reveals himself as Yahweh who brought his people out of Egypt and made a covenant with them.

2) The historical prologue of the Sinaitic covenant refers to the Exodus (Ex. 20:1-2; cf. Josh. 24:4ff).  ANE covenants of this sort often gave a historical background to the terms of the covenant; so did Israel’s covenant.

3) Legal matters of Israel had to do with the Exodus.  Many ethical laws in Israel had their background in the Exodus.  For example, Israel was to free their slaves after a certain time because God freed them from their slavery (Lev 25:46ff, Deut. 15:15, etc).  Israel was not to mistreat foreigners because they were foreigners before the Exodus (Ex. 22:21, Lev. 19:34, etc.).

4) Many of Israel’s religious festivals, observances, and rites had roots in the Exodus.  Religious rituals are reenactments or repetitions of sacred moments or events, behind which stands an archetype.  In Israel, they celebrated the Passover and feast of unleavened bread, not to mention the feast of booths, observance of the Sabbath, and consecration of the firstborn.  All of these laws were based on the pattern of the Exodus.

5) Some of Israel’s hymns recounted God’s power in the Exodus.  The Song of Moses and of Miriam celebrate the event (Ex. 15).  Deborah’s hymn refers to the Exodus (Judg. 5:4-5).  See also Ps. 78, 105, and 106 (etc.).

6) The prophets refer to the Exodus and Sinaitic covenant.  Over and over the prophets, prosecuting the covenant, remind Israel that Yahweh brought them out of slavery (Hos. 11:1, 13:5, Amos 9:7, Micah 6:4-5, etc.).

7) Non-Israelites mention the Exodus.  Jethro and Balaam are two examples (Ex. 18, Num. 22-23).  Rahab of Jericho had heard about the Exodus, which made her believe in God (Josh. 2:9-10).  The Philistines also had heard of it (1 Sam. 4:6-8).

8) Israel’s calendar was based on the Exodus.  The Exodus from Egypt, because it was a founding national event, served as a chronological benchmark or anchoring point in subsequent periods (Ex. 12:1-2, 19:1, Num. 9:1-2, etc.).

9) The Exodus is referred to in retrospect quite often.  Moses looked back and reminded the people of the Exodus (Num. 20:14-17), the theme is found in Judges (Judg. 6:13, 11:13-16), and Saul recounts it (1 Sam. 12:6-8).

Again, those points are very short summaries of Hoffmeier’s essay that shows how the Exodus theme runs through the fabric of the Old Testament and its theology.  (Note: Hoffmeier also mentions the Exodus theme in the NT, but I don’t have the space to summarize it here.)  Hoffmeier does a nice job of proving this point: the Exodus as an historical event is essential for Old Testament theology and is also an essential part of Christian Scripture (and faith!).

Hoffmeier’s article can be found in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), chapter 4.

shane lems