True Christianity, the Christianity of the New Testament documents, is absolutely dependent on history […] The incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a real event in time and space, i.e., as historical realities, are the indispensable foundations of Christian faith. -Donald Hagner
Before we get into some of the evidence, I want to put some of your minds at ease. We will be looking at the Bible some, but you do not have to believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God to consider the evidence it puts forth. My purpose here is not even to argue to reliability of the Bible. We are simply approaching the New Testament as we would any other book in antiquity. We are looking at the NT as simply a collection of writings and letters that the early church thought authoritative, included in fact because they could stand up to scrutiny. There may be debate over some of the dating and even the authors, but with our minimal facts approach, that doesn’t even matter much. Most all religious, secular, and skeptical scholars at least think that the writings contain teachings that can be traced back to Jesus or his disciples. Again, I’m not saying we agree with the skeptics about the Bible, only that we will leave the debate surrounding the Bible’s authority to another time; we just take advantage of the fact that most scholars believe some things in the Bible are true and that we have a plethora of ancient manuscripts to back it up. It’s not fair to throw out the Bible because it’s considered a religious text… we can look at the value it has historically apart from that… and its historical value and reliability is far greater than most works of antiquity that historians consider as fact.
Historicity of Jesus’ Existence
First, we can dispense easily with the notion that Jesus of Nazareth is only a legend, but that he is an actual person who really lived and existed in history
You will be very hard pressed to find any serious scholars who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is a fairy tale, and we’ll be looking at numerous references to Jesus and his life from Christian, non-Christian, and anti-Christian contemporaries as we get into the evidence. He is literally the most famous (and controversial) person in human history.
Quote from Jaroslav Pelikan: “Regardless of what anyone may personally believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western Culture for twenty centuries. [….] It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse, and in his name that millions pray.”The more interesting question is…
Who did Jesus claim to be?
Jesus’ Claim to Deity
John 1:1, 14
References to people worshipping Jesus. Angels deferred to Him, Disciples deferred to Him- but Christ commanded and accepted worship
Said “I say to You,” spoke with authority
Correctly predicted His death (and resurrection)
Other references to Christ as God
Matt. 1:23, Christ is called “Immanuel” → “God with Us”
Matt. 16:15-17: Confession of Simon Peter
John 20:28, Thomas refers to Jesus as “my Lord and God”
Col. 2:9- “For in Christ all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form”
The Trilemma: Lord, Liar, or Lunatic
So who was Jesus really? Some people believe Jesus is God because they believe the Bible is inspired by God. Since the Bible teaches it, it must be true. But you don’t need this to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is God.
So we know that:
Through accuracy/reliability of Scripture and secular sources, that he lived. No legend.
Gospel accounts record things He did, places He went, words He said
Jesus definitely claimed to be God.
So is His claim to Deity true or false?
Jesus’ claims must be either true or false. If they are false, then there are two options:
He Knew His Claims were False
He Did Not Know His Claims were False
If He Knew His Claims were False:
This means that Jesus Christ was a liar.
He was also a hypocrite- He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while He was teaching and living a colossal lie
He was demonic- He deliberately told people to trust Him for their eternal destiny; if He couldn’t back it up and He knew the claims were false, He was unspeakably evil.
He was also a fool- It was His claims to deity that led to his death by crucifixion (Mark 14 and John 19:7- “The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be God.’”
How could He have left the most profound moral instruction and powerful moral example ever? The simple record of these three short years of ministry has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the philosophers and moralists who ever lived.
Philip Schaff. “How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter, a deceitful, selfish, and depraved man, have invented and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality?”
If He Did Not Know His Claims were False:
You can be sincere and wrong.
Think about it: This carpenter is telling a completely monotheistic (one God) culture that He is God and that all of your eternal destinies depends on belief in Him. This is no small flight of fantasy. He had to be a lunatic to the fullest extent.
Psychologists determine the extent of insanity based on the gap between what you think you are, and what you really are
If I said I was the smartest guy in America, I’d be an “arrogant fool”
If I said I was the first president of United States, I would definitely be “over the edge”
If someone said he was a butterfly, then we would all say he had completely embarked from the shores of sanity.
But now, what if I said that I was the God of the entire universe- whole new level (infinite/finite)
Lunatics- according to psychology books and history, there are three main characteristics that are LACKING in someone who is crazy, insane, etc:
1) Practical wisdom, ability to read human hearts
2) Deep love, compassion (as opposed to self-loving), ability to attract people and make them feel at home
3) Ability to astonish with creativity, unpredictability, calm authority
“Is such an intellect as Jesus Christ, which was clear as the sky, sharp and penetrating as the sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready, liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning his own character and mission?
The truth is, Jesus was not only sane, but He gave us the most accurate formula for peace of mind and heart!!
If His Claims are True:
If He is not a liar or lunatic, then He is Lord!
Other self-proclaimed god and saviors have come and gone, but Jesus stands head and shoulders above them all!
C.S. Lewis Quote: “I am trying to here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic- on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a mad man or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
You can’t put Jesus on the shelf as a great moral teacher. Not an option. You must decide.
Two Options- Accept Him or Reject Him
Despite all this, if His resurrection did not happen, you have good reason to Reject Him…continued in “Jesus Christ, Part 2: Evidence for the Resurrection”