For many Christians there has to come a point at some time in their walk of faith that they ask the question was Jesus real? I’ve asked that many times! As I sit in church I often wonder is this all a scam that’s been going on for thousands of years? For some reason I look around me and think, look at all of the men on church, if this were a scam, would they get pulled in. Women of faith I would understand because they are so emotional, but men are rational thinkers who need proof, so maybe this Jesus think IS real. Historically, can we prove that Jesus even existed?
In 2007, the Barna Group conducted a survey asked US citizens if they believed in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Three out of four American said they believe Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, Mary, as described in the gospel narratives and most American adults believe that the stories they read in the Bible can be taken as literal truth, not merely as stories told to communicate life principles. That is interesting considering the Pacific Northwest is considered one of the most unchurched regions in the United States – we are spiritual bunch(not quite sure what that means) but we aren’t attendees of mainstream churches.
In 1945 in Egypt, the Gospel of Thomas was discovered among other writings. This books parallels the first three books of the New Testament. The introduction states: “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down” (Bethge 7). This Gospel echoes the same sayings and parables that we read about in the Biblical Gospels but never directly point to Jesus’ divinity, but never contradicts it either.
There is some controversy about the actual existence of Jesus but most historians agree that he was a historical figure. John Crossan is a Biblical scholar who is adamant that Jesus existed and says some Jesus deniers may be people who have a problem with Christianity. Crossan says “…Jesus’ existence matters in the same way that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s existence mattered. If King never existed, people would say his ideas are lovely, but they could never work in the real world” (CNN) He believes “Jesus was a healer and man of great wisdom and courage who taught a message of inclusiveness, tolerance, and liberation. His strategy . . . was the combination of free healing and common eating . . . that negated the hierarchical and patronal normalcies of Jewish religion and Roman power . . . He was neither broker nor mediator but . . . the announcer that neither should exist between humanity and divinity or humanity and itself” (Crossan 126).
Josephus, a Jewish historian wrote at the end of the first century and in his Antiquities of the Jews, has a small passage about Jesus. He also mentioned John the Baptist and James, Jesus brother. These passages are the first proof outside of his followers. Harold W. Attridge from Yale Divinity School suggests these records “…may have been tampered with in the transmission, but at the core there probably is a reliable historical account by Josephus of the existence of Jesus”(PBS) . Attridge differentiates between history and faith – assembling everything that is written in the Gospels about Jesus assembles all of the evidence, but Attridge suggests the Gospels are really statements of faith and Josephus account provides the necessary historical data that historians need to reconstruct the account of Jesus.
Shaye Cohen, Professor of Judaic and Religious Studies at Brown University says patterns emerge about Jesus in the Gospels :
Jesus as the miracle worker, Jesus as a man who made a deep impression upon those who he came in contact with, his ability to attract large crowds, his ability to attract a dedicated core group of followers or disciples, and then a much larger group of people sort of in the margins of the core group… They will have been many wandering holy men around about Judea or even the Roman Empire. But this man clearly was peculiar. This man clearly made a mark, left an impression, somebody you didn’t forget. Somebody who had power in a social sense. Someone who actually was able to somehow attract, enchant, and hold a large group of followers already in his lifetime. And this point, I think clearly must be true. I don’t see how else we can understand the stories that are told in the gospels, even if the stories themselves may not be true, but the pattern, I’m arguing, has some truth to it. (PBS).
Christianity is truly a walk of faith – you believe in a man that was born thousands of years ago under very strange circumstances and continues to live under equally strange circumstances. He’s really one of three spiritual people – none of whom you can see. And yet, for thousands of years, we continue to believe. Doesn’t seem to matter if it is male or female – we believe that this man continues to walk along side of us in our daily lives…faith is the evidence of being sure what we hope for and certain of things we don’t see (Hebrews 11:1).
“Americans Express Their Views of the Virgin Birth of Christ”.
The Barna Group. 17 Dec 2007. Web 17 May 2013.
Berman, Timothy. “Is the Pacific Northwest really the
unchurched region?”. Examiner.com. 30 Mar 2012. Web.
17 May 2013.
Bethge, Robinson. Fifth Gospel: The Gospel of Thomas Comes
of Age. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International. 1998. Print
Blake, John. “The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth”. CNN. 7 Apr
2012. Web. 18 May 2013.
Crossan, John D. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a
Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. New York : Harper
Collins Publishers. 1991. Print.
“What Can We Really Know About Jesus? Evaluating the
fragmentary evidence”. PBS. April 1998. Web. 17 May 2013.