by Robert G. Witty
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Editor's note: In his book, The Bible: Fact or Fiction? Dr. Witty proposes a series of tests by which a doubter who is willing to set aside his biases, and judge the Bible as he would judge other books, can be convinced it is the Word of God. In this installment the author reminds us that Jesus is a historical figure.
The fact that Jesus actually lived in history now defies any reasonable doubt. In addition to the New Testament record, multiple varied and tested evidences confirm Jesus' earthly existence. To deny that Jesus lived on earth is to deny the validity of factual historical records. Whether Jesus receives acceptance as Deity or as human, the fact that such a person lived stands as an indisputable fact.
The very existence of Christianity offers proof of the fact that Jesus lived. If Buddhism gives proof to the fact that Buddha lived, and it does, then global Christianity is a proof that Jesus lived. If Confucianism is a proof that Confucius lived, and it is, then global Christianity is a proof that Jesus lived.
Scholars have recognized that the New Testament record of customs, religious movements, political figures, countries and cities, times and places, establishes its historical validity. Skeptics may show disagreement with Luke or Paul by their refusing to worship Jesus, but denial of the historical accuracy of His record of sayings and events requires more than denial.
For example, consider the scholarly vindication of the New Testament record by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, the director of the British Museum: "The interval, then, between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established."
Secular records, recognized by contemporary scholars, also prove that Jesus lived:
1. Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, stated in Antiquities of the Jews: "About this time lived Jesus, a man full of wisdom, if indeed one may call him a man. For he was the doer of incredible things, and the teacher of such as gladly received the truth. He thus attracted to himself many Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. On the accusation of the leading men of our people, Pilate condemned him to death upon the cross; nevertheless those who had previously loved him still remained faithful to him. For on the third day he again appeared to them living, just as, in addition to a thousand other marvelous things, prophets sent by God had foretold. And to the present day the race of those who call themselves Christians after him has not ceased."
2. Suetonius, the Roman biographer, wrote in Nero, "Punishment [by Nero] was inflicted on Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition."
3. Tacitus, a distinguished historian of the second century, in Annals, having remarked that Nero attempted to blame the burning of Rome on Christians, wrote, "But the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only in Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also…."
4. Lucian, a Roman writer who scorned Christians, described Christ in The Passing of Peregrinus by calling Him "the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world."
All of these evidences face the skeptic with this dilemma: either he must admit that Jesus Christ actually lived, or he must deny the reliability of universally recognized historical data. There is far more historical proof that Jesus lived than that Pontius Pilate lived to sentence Him to the cross.
The truth that Jesus was a historical person is beyond reasonable contest!
Dr. Witty founded the Luther Rice Seminary and served as its president for twenty years. In addition to a radio and Internet ministry, he is presently a semi-retired Bible teacher, church consultant, and writer. The Bible: Fact or Fiction? was published in 2001 by CLC Publications, Fort Washington, PA 19034.