What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?

Today some claim that Jesus is just an idea, rather than a real historical figure, but there is a good deal of written evidence for his existence 2,000 years ago.

How confident can we be that Jesus Christ actually lived?

The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.

What do Christian writings tell us?

The value of this evidence is that it is both early and detailed. The first Christian writings to talk about Jesus are the epistles of St Paul, and scholars agree that the earliest of these letters were written within 25 years of Jesus’s death at the very latest, while the detailed biographical accounts of Jesus in the New Testament gospels date from around 40 years after he died. These all appeared within the lifetimes of numerous eyewitnesses, and provide descriptions that comport with the culture and geography of first-century Palestine. It is also difficult to imagine why Christian writers would invent such a thoroughly Jewish saviour figure in a time and place – under the aegis of the Roman empire – where there was strong suspicion of Judaism.

What did non-Christian authors say about Jesus?

As far as we know, the first author outside the church to mention Jesus is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote a history of Judaism around AD93. He has two references to Jesus. One of these is controversial because it is thought to be corrupted by Christian scribes (probably turning Josephus’s negative account into a more positive one), but the other is not suspicious – a reference to James, the brother of “Jesus, the so-called Christ”.

About 20 years after Josephus we have the Roman politicians Pliny and Tacitus, who held some of the highest offices of state at the beginning of the second century AD. From Tacitus we learn that Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea (AD26-36) and Tiberius was emperor (AD14-37) – reports that fit with the timeframe of the gospels. Pliny contributes the information that, where he was governor in northern Turkey, Christians worshipped Christ as a god. Neither of them liked Christians – Pliny writes of their “pig-headed obstinacy” and Tacitus calls their religion a destructive superstition.

Did ancient writers discuss the existence of Jesus?

Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. In the earliest literature of the Jewish Rabbis, Jesus was denounced as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer. Among pagans, the satirist Lucian and philosopher Celsus dismissed Jesus as a scoundrel, but we know of no one in the ancient world who questioned whether Jesus lived.

How controversial is the existence of Jesus now?

In a recent book, the French philosopher Michel Onfray talks of Jesus as a mere hypothesis, his existence as an idea rather than as a historical figure. About 10 years ago, The Jesus Project was set up in the US; one of its main questions for discussion was that of whether or not Jesus existed. Some authors have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth was doubly non-existent, contending that both Jesus and Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written most against these hypersceptical arguments are atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach, branding it pseudo-scholarship. Nevertheless, a recent survey discovered that 40% of adults in England did not believe that Jesus was a real historical figure.

Is there any archaeological evidence for Jesus?

Part of the popular confusion around the historicity of Jesus may be caused by peculiar archaeological arguments raised in relation to him. Recently there have been claims that Jesus was a great-grandson of Cleopatra, complete with ancient coins allegedly showing Jesus wearing his crown of thorns. In some circles, there is still interest in the Shroud of Turin, supposedly Jesus’s burial shroud. Pope Benedict XVI stated that it was something that “no human artistry was capable of producing” and an “icon of Holy Saturday”.

It is hard to find historians who regard this material as serious archaeological data, however. The documents produced by Christian, Jewish and Roman writers form the most significant evidence.

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.

This post was adapted from The Guardian, written by Simon Gathercole – Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge.

To find out more about our hope and how you can become a part of it, visit our website: www.ammanfordchristadelphians.co.uk.

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Walking with God

Most babies begin to try to walk a few steps during the first year of their life. Walking is a big accomplishment for them and, once they master it, they take off on every direction imaginable! The parents’ job is to try to direct their little steps so they don’t come to any harm.

The problem of making sure that we head off in the right direction continues long after we are babies. We all need to be directed by GOD to walk in the right way. King Solomon tells us what to do if we don’t want our steps to get us into trouble. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart: and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Babies don’t understand the dangers of walking in busy streets, stairs or pools of water. The awareness of danger comes with age and experience, coupled with wisdom. It is the same for us. Although we all have experiences as we pass through life, the question is, how much wiser are we? We cannot see what lies ahead for us in the future. If we rely on our own wisdom or that of others to guide our way we will fall into trouble.

Jesus explains “… And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14) We need always to ask the Lord to direct our paths. Solomon said twice “There is a way which seems right to a man. But its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25) We dare not lean on our own understanding any more than we would allow a little child to play in the street, even though he thinks it is all right. GOD really does know what is best for us.

It is amazing how many people who consider themselves wise simply do not consider GOD’S way. They speculate as to whether or not Jesus was married, or what happens when we die and they honestly don’t know the answers. They aren’t aware that our Maker, the Creator of the Universe, has provided an instruction manual, the Bible, that has all the answers. If we want to know how to live wisely, we can go directly to the source and humbly ask GOD, as King David did in the Psalms, “Show me your ways O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach, For you are the God of my salvation.” (Psalm 25:4-5)

It is wonderful that the believer can communicate directly with GOD and ask Him anything by praying to Him. Sometimes the answer to the request is “No” and it isn’t easy to accept, just as children may not like being refused sweets even though they may not be good for them. However, there is one prayer that all believers can pray. The request that GOD has promised to fulfil is the believer’s request for wisdom. However there is one condition.

James, the servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ explains. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8) If we ask GOD to give us wisdom to walk in His ways He will say “Yes” to that prayer if we believe and do not doubt.

Many times Jesus said “Follow me.” What is it that we are doing when we are trying to follow Jesus? On one occasion, the disciple, Thomas, was confused and asked “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:5-6) A few verses later Jesus said “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15)

The apostle Paul gives encouragement when he tells us “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

The prophet Micah tells us what the Lord requires of us. “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

All who follow Jesus must choose their steps wisely and with humility, always trying to follow the path towards the promise of salvation revealed by GOD in His holy Word, the Bible.

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The King born in a Manger

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.

The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay,

The little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay.”

Many of us will remember singing this carol at school Nativity performances.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born in Bethlehem. Mary, a virgin, was chosen by God (Luke 1:26-33) to be his Mother, (verse 32, “and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus”). Mary wrapped Jesus in cloths and laid Him in an animal feeding trough, a manger. (Luke 2:7)

As soon as Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, God had promised that He would provide a Saviour who would triumph over sin and death. (Genesis 3:15) Many centuries later the prophet Micah foretold the birth of Christ. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel …” (Micah 5:2) This prophecy was fulfilled when Mary and Joseph, Mary’s future husband, had to travel to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus ordered that all the Roman world should be registered. (Luke 2:1) And so Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was crowded when Mary and Joseph arrived. There was no room at the inn. Tradition presumes that the inn was a hotel. The Greek word translated “inn” (kataluma) could be translated “guest room”. It may be that Jesus may not have been born in a stable but in a room beneath a house that was a night time shelter for the owner’s animals. Luke tells us that angels told shepherds of His birth and they ran to find him. “And the angel said to them, for unto you is born this day in the city of David (Bethlehem) a Saviour who is Christ the Lord … you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

Why was the Son of the Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, born in such poor and humble surroundings? This humble birth sends an amazing message to us all. The All Powerful God chose to send His Only Son Jesus, our Saviour and King, as one of us, to reveal God’s character and His plan of salvation. Jesus told Philip “… he who has seen me has seen the Father …” (John 14:9)

God has promised all who truly believe that Jesus was born to be our Saviour that He will send Jesus to this earth again. This time He will come, not as Son of Man, but as the triumphant Son of God. He will be the immortal king who will set up His Father’s everlasting Kingdom on earth and reign in righteousness. Those who have believed and followed the laws of God and the teaching of His Beloved Son will be granted everlasting life.

The Ammanford Christadelphians warmly invite everyone to join them on Christmas Eve to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

Jesus, The Hope of the World.

Join us for an evening of singing, reflection, discussion and laughter, mince pies, a cuppa and a glass of mulled wine!

Festivities begin  at 4pm Sunday 24th December 2017, Ammanford Christadelphian Hall, Foundry Road, SA18 2LS.

Come and stay as long as you like. Entry is free and everyone is welcome!

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In the beginning God …

The writer of this blog reads the creation record in the first book of God’s Word, The Bible, Genesis chapter one: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) at the beginning of every New Year. These opening chapters reveal to us the order and grandeur of the record, and yet it is so worded that ordinary folk like you and II can understand it. However, creation is ridiculed by so many these days.

Scientists who believe in creation as set out in Genesis have looked at the facts of science and cannot line them up with evolution. Consider the following:

1. The origin of life is unknown to science. The Law of Biogenesis observes that life only comes from life. Louis Pasteur proved scientifically that life does not come from non-life.

2. Many animals possess sophisticated equipment. The radar system of bats, the sonar of whales and dolphins, the electro-detection system of the platypus etc. A complexity that could not possibly have been produced by chance.

3. While single-celled creatures are numerous, there are none with two, three, four or even twenty cells. Thus there is no evolutionary sequence from single-celled to multi -celled creatures.

4. All known species (several million) appear fully developed, with all vital organs operational. There are no part formed eyes, half developed intestines or evolving feathers.

5. The genetic code in each cell, in the DNA, if written out in detail, would require as many as 4,000 large volumes of closely printed text. This is no accident of nature.

6. The DNA helix in each cell requires twenty different proteins for its instruction. These specific proteins can only be produced under the direction of the information in the DNA.Ttherefore the whole complex system must have been informed complete from the beginning of life.

7. Symbiosis, the interdependence of two forms of life, such as the fig tree and the fig-gall wasp, the yucca plant and the pronuba moth, pollen plants and the bee, each dependant for life upon the other, must have been formed complete at the same time.

Many other facts of science could be advanced. The Scripture says: “I will praise thee (God) for I am fearfully and wonderfully made….” (Psalm 139:14). This, is, of course a miracle.

What do you think?

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No More War

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In a recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Unit global military spending last year amounted to £1.2 trillion! The USA and China were the biggest spenders.

Ever since the Second World War there has never been a year without conflict between nations.

The Bible, God’s Word, clearly indicates that, before the second coming of Jesus Christ, nations would prepare for war.

The prophet Joel writes (Joel 3:9-10):

“Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war!

Wake up the mighty men, Let all the men of war draw near, Let them come up.

Beat your ploughshares into swords And your pruning hooks into spears:

Let the weak say I am strong.”

The nations are, without realising, preparing for what the Bible calls Armageddon (Revelation 16;16). There, in Israel and all over the world, the nations will be subdued by Jesus Christ and His saints. (Isaiah 2:4, Zechariah14: 4-10)

Then an era of worldwide peace will gradually fill the earth. Jesus will rule! “….Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)

In Jesus’ Kingdom “….the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace until the moon is no more” (Psalm 72:7). The promise made by the angels at Jesus’ birth “…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men!” (Luke 2:14) will be fulfilled.The present preparations for war and the mistrust among the nations are a sign that the King of Peace will come soon!

Please read Luke 21:25-28 to see what Jesus said about the state of the earth before His return. He goes on to say, in verse 31, “So you likewise, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near.”

 

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The truth of the empty tomb!

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I want to be direct and talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not just because it’s Easter time (a very good prompt of course) but because it is vital. It is the foundation of the Christian faith. Perhaps you do believe that “Christ died for our sins…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. ( 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

I do hope you will find these thoughts positive and reaffirming. However, you may be sceptical or just cannot accept it. Well, perhaps what follows will be food for thought!

Jesus of Nazareth is an historical figure, real and recorded in the literature of the era. He was known as a Jewish teacher who was crucified as a criminal, a death his followers did not expect. Amazingly however, within weeks, they turned from dejection and inertia to become an active, vital and very convincing force. They preached at home and abroad that Jesus had risen from the dead and had been seen by many of them. Saul, a resolute enemy and persecutor of Christians, became utterly convinced. (Acts 8) He became known as the apostle Paul, the foremost preacher of Jesus Christ. He committed and ultimately gave up his life for his risen Lord. These facts about what happened 2000 years ago are on record.

Roman and Jewish enemies could have stopped the movement in its tracks and shown it to be false simply by producing Jesus’ body. But the tomb was empty and the body gone! The tomb was sealed and a guard had been placed there to stop his disciples from removing his body.

The apostle Paul said of the resurrection” I am speaking true and rational words” (Acts 26:25).

Many have spoken irrationally and falsely about the empty tomb. Many theories have tried to explain away Jesus’ resurrection but all disappear when the evidence is judged fairly and squarely. Some maintain that Jesus appeared dead but had merely swooned and then revived in the cool of the tomb. He had then escape. Hardened, seasoned soldiers and their centurion knew a dead, lacerated body when they saw one. Jesus had been pierced in his hands and feet, had hung on a cross in the heat of the day and, just to make sure that he was truly dead, the soldiers pierced him with a sword in his side !His followers would have looked desperately for signs of life as they prepared his body for the tomb. What is more, how could a man, so badly wounded have removed the huge stone sealing the entrance?. He would then have to evade the guards! Clearly impossible!

The truth of the empty tomb is that Jesus is alive and “declared to be the Son of God in power…. by his resurrection from the dead.”( Romans 1:4)

This wonderful ‘outside our experience’ supernatural fact is pivotal. It is the centre of the truth of the Bible. The grave could not contain him because he alone was sinless. His life, freely given, can save us and reconcile us to God. His resurrection is the assurance that God will raise and judge many at Christ’s return to our earth. (Acts 17:31)

So, as Paul says “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8)

(All quote from ESV Bible)

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