The number of Christians around the world has increased fourfold over the last century. Today there are nearly two billion Christians around the globe, and many of these Christians want to find out more about the historicity of Jesus Christ. Did Jesus Christ really exist? What are some ways of finding out?
Sources Supporting Christ's Existence
When people pose these questions, they typically want to know if Jesus Christ existed outside of the Bible's New Testament. Although the Bible is a respected source of evidence for many Christians, even ancient manuscripts support the notion that Jesus Christ was a man inhabiting Israel in the early part of the first century.
The New Testament itself, though, makes hundreds of direct references to the historical figure of Christ; the Bible is considered a primary source by many Christian scholars. Many of these scholars believe that the four gospels of the New Testament were written during the latter half of the first century A.D., but some academics still claim that parts of the gospels were written in the second century after Christ's resurrection.
Even if the gospels of the New Testament were written in the second century after Christ's death and resurrection, the timing of these writings and closeness to Christ's death would still be near enough to be considered historically reliable.
That said, the majority of Christian scholars contend that the four canonical gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were written within one or two generations subsequent to Christ's resurrection. This timeframe is considered very reliable from a historical standpoint.
Secular and Christian Scholars Agree
Both Christian and non-Christian scholars concede that Paul's Epistles were written by Paul of Tarsus in the middle of the first century A.D. In other words, Paul's Epistles were written within two generations of Christ's death, which is very close to the events chronicled in Paul's Epistles and very good historical evidence.
The reason that many non-Christian scholars doubt whether Jesus Christ really walked Israel's streets in the first century A.D. actually has more to do with the realities of the time than any one scholar's religious beliefs. That is, two generations after Christ's death the Roman's laid siege to large swathes of Jerusalem and Israel. The Romans slaughtered the inhabitants of entire cities and even burned much of the soil on which thousands of people once called home.
The Roman's widespread destruction at this time destroyed many of Jesus' traces in the region. In fact, hundreds of Jesus' eyewitnesses were killed in these Roman attacks. The scope and brutality of these attacks severely limits the possibility of finding large numbers of eyewitness to corroborate the historicity of Jesus Christ. Again, though, given the evidence of ancient manuscripts and the timeframe of the gospel writers, Christian and non-Christian scholars are widely in agreement that Jesus Christ existed.
Given the reduced number of eyewitness vis-a-vis the Romans besieging Jerusalem and Israel, the scope of secular sources corroborating Jesus Christ's presence in the holy land at that time is very compelling. The ministry of Jesus Christ was relegated to a small, unremarkable plot of land owned by the Roman empire, yet reliable historical sources have documented the presence of Jesus Christ at the pre-modern time and place that the Bible claims.
Roman Scholars Documented Christ's Existence
One of the most accurate and scrupulous Roman historians of all time, Roman Tacitus, documented the circumstances surrounding the trial and crucification of Jesus Christ. Tacitus reports the events with a dispassionate eye and notes that superstitious "Christians" (Latin for Christ) were persecuted under the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. In fact, the chief secretary of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Seutonius, noted that a man named Christ lived during the first two generations of the first century, according to annals that Seutonius left behind.
Arguably the most famous Jewish historian of all-time, Flavius Josephus, makes many references to Jesus Christ in his Antiquities and elsewhere. Flavius worked as the court historian for an emperor named Vespasian.
Flavius noted that Jesus was a "wise" and a "virtuous" man, and that Jesus was the fulfillment of divine prophesies. Flavius goes on to note that many Jews became Jesus' disciples until Pilate condemned Jesus to crucifixion. Flavius Josephus was a learned Roman scholar of the first century who also noted that Christ was reported to have resurrected following the crucifixion. Flavius also contended that Jesus Christ was likely the messiah that the divine prophesies had augured.
Sextus Julius Africanus was a Christian traveler and historian who later influenced Eusebius. Julius Africanus actually recorded the historian Thallus' learned discussion on the period of darkness subsequent to Jesus' crucifixion. In addition, an ancient Roman magistrate named Pliny the Younger notes in chapter ten, verse 96 of his letters that early Christians worshipped a man named Jesus as god incarnate. Pliny makes reference to Christ's Last Supper and other acts of devotion. All of these references taken together help to establish Jesus Christ as a historical figure in the first century A.D.
Lastly, Lucian of Samosata reported that Jesus was worshipped by Christians across Jerusalem prior to being crucified for his teachings. Lucian of Samosata remains a credible second century Greek writer. Lucian noted that Jesus Christ has a band of loyal followers and emphasized compassion and conversion to the Christian faith. Christ's emphasis on self-denial, service and renunciation of material goods is echoed in the writings of Lucian.
Summing Up the Evidence
Gnostic writings spanning from the Gospel of Truth to the Gospel of Thomas mention Jesus. Mara Bar-Seapion goes one step further by contending that Jesus was purportedly the king of Israel and subsequently was put to death by contemporaneous Jews.
The consensus among Christian and non-Christian scholars alike is that Jesus Christ actually existed in Jerusalem and Israel during the first century A.D.
Secular, historical sources and hundreds of biblical references corroborate the historicity of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Jesus' apostles and disciples were willing to die for a man that they fervently believed in. People all around the world will die for what they know to be true, but few if any will die for a lie.
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