Inclusive yet Exclusive: Jesus through History by Angel Quiles

There is one truth. Truth is not subjective, it's absolute, that's what makes it true. To say there are no abosulte truths, is to make an absolute truth claim that there are no absolutes. There can’t be two truths to a single subject, no your truth or my truth, it is independent of what you and I might think it to be. Squares have four points, humans have brains (most of us), wood is found on trees, etc. It doesn't matter if you think it's true or not, the fact remains. Another example could be if someone takes something you own and you ask for it back because it's yours, can they then turn around and say “Well that's just your truth.” Of course not, which brings us to God. There is one truth, one path to him and it’s Jesus. John 14:16 “I am the way, the truth, the life; No man cometh unto the father but by me.”

When we look at the world today we see many religions claiming to be true and although all may say some true things such as moral codes, how you ought to treat others, etc. there can only be one absolute pertaining to the single subject, the single subject being God. If we say all are true then none are special which means we can dip our hand into each one, taking what we like and fitting it into the worldview that best suits us. But if truth is absolute why do we make this exception when it comes to God?

Now I believe Christianity is that one truth and of course you could say “That's your belief, that's your opinion. Just because you say it is, that doesn't make it so.” You’re right, that's why when anyone makes a claim there must also be evidence to back it up. Now, unfortunately, if you have disregarded the Bible as evidence for the claim that I’ve made or rather the one God has through his word, then no verse, chapter, or book from it is going to convince you otherwise. So in this piece we will be doing two things. Going outside of the scripture to gather our evidence pertaining to Jesus, because if we can confirm Jesus is who he says he is then we can make the truth claim that the God of the Holy Bible is the one and only God. Secondly, we will be looking at the new testament and testing its reliability as being accurate ancient documents.

Let's start with a first century Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus who was born in Jerusalem in 37AD and died 100AD. He is most acknowledged by his two works; The Jewish War, where he gives insight on the Jewish revolt against the roman tyranny and also his book Antiquities of the Jews where he recounts events happening in the Jewish community in a more broader sense which of course includes early Christianity. In Antiquity of the Jews, Book 18 chapter 3,3 Josephus writes, “ About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them, spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

Keep in mind this man was believed to be a pharisee at the time, the very people who influenced the masses to turn against Jesus. These people had much power and were ultimately using religion as a means to control their people yet Josephus was willing to jeopardize this status by recording Jesus as being the Christ. A mere rebel without a cause or someone who is passionate about the truth? But maybe that’s too close to home, I mean a religious man writing about Jesus isn’t too far fetch right? Let's get a less biased source. Take Publius Cornelius Tacitus who was a roman historian and politician, his life being from 56AD to 120AD. He was not involved in the Jewish or christian faith whatsoever but was actually against it calling it “a most mischievous superstition.” He gave an account of history from the Romans perspective which gives us a more objective look on Jesus. In his final work “The annals” He mentions Jesus as well as the great persecution of Christians that took place during the reign of Emperor Nero. In Annals 15.44 Tacitus writes, “ But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations. Called by the populace Christians. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”

There’s a couple interesting things about his passage. For one we not only get confirmation of Christ but also on whose authority he was delivered unto crucifixion, Pontius Pilate, the same mentioned in the new testament by all four gospels. Secondly, Tacitus tells us Christians were at first brought forward for their alleged involvement in the great fire of Rome, who many scholars believe it actually to be Nero himself who started, but it was evident that this was just an act of hatred against an innocent group of people. And it means that much more when the person saying this is against the religion but can still witness the inhumane treatment and even going as far as using the word ‘evil’ in his description. Speaking of that evil, lets get some more insight on what the Christians had actually endured during this time. Tacitus continues the chapter by saying this “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.” These are trials people don’t willingly take on unless they truly believe what they are suffering for and by no means does someone sacrificing their life for a belief make it true but here’s the best part; most rejoiced while enduring it. In scripture it’s repeated time and time again that Christians would be happy that they had suffered in the name of Christ. Acts 5:40-41 “And to him they agreed:and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”

I want to offer one more source of historic evidence of Jesus before we get into the New testament. What I’m doing by offering these texts is to set the ground for the man Jesus, because before we can get into his divinity we need to confirm his human nature to have actually existed. Note that it isn’t debated too often of the history of Jesus but rather his claim to be God, however for the subject at hand I thought it would make sense to provide some of the sources that scholars point to when they say he indeed existed. Which brings us to our third and final source, Mara Bar Serapion. Serapion is a stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria. Although we know he was born in 50AD, his death is unknown. The evidence he provides doesn't come from somewhere in a line of published works like the previous pedigrees but in a letter to his son from prison. He encourages him to chase wisdom and uses examples of a couple people who have provided some of the greatest wisdom in history.

Mara's letters says, “What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the "new law" he laid down.”

Along with Jesus, king of the Jews, Mara also mentioned Socrates and Pythagoras. Socrates never wrote any of his writings and neither did Pythagoras but their ideas influenced Plato and Aristotle who did write and together they form the foundation for western philosophy. Why mention this? Because while evidence for their existence is scarce, it’s never questioned but yet with regards to Jesus who has an abundance of evidence and also being the center of the greatest event in human history, he is called into question. And by abundance of evidence I mean the 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the new testament, making it the most preserved text in ancient history. To put into perspective, the manuscripts we have of Plato and Aristotle add up to only about 4 feet if we were to stack them. But for the new testament, it would stack to over a mile high! Not only that but it also has the shortest gap from when the original was written, 25 years! Plato is 1,200, Tacitus is 1,000, and even the great Caesar writings are separated a thousand years from the original.

But why don’t we doubt the writings and accounts of these men if by statistics they prove to be less valid then the new testament? Now of course none of them claim to be God so I get the higher standard that's applied to scripture but in what area does it fall short? 5,800 copies not only give hint to the magnitude of the event but serves as a defense against corruption. With so many, it’s easy to detect if anyone had added, taken out, or changed vital verses. The majority would serve as a reference point to the correct text while those that differ would be easily spotted. And even though some words from Hebrew and Greek to English may change from translations, it isn't nearly enough to discredit the Gospel, the story and purpose of Jesus because of how straight forward it is. Remember, the word of God was made for all of humanity not just those who spoke Hebrew and Greek. So its safe to say that any words that do hold different meanings are not significant enough to alter the message the text gives because translation was anticipated. Here's a test you can do if you are a bit skeptical on translations or errors. Try to name one that affects any chirstian doctrine stated in the bible.

Also while we are on the subject of scripture, I think it’s worth noting that in it states God will always preserve his word. Psalm 12:6-7” The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” We see this not only through the evidence I gave for the new testament but also with the old after the discovery of the dead sea scrolls in 1947. These scrolls were hidden away in the Qumran caves for thousands of years given that it is estimated to have been created from 408BC to 318AD. They contain writings from every book in the old testament quieting any skeptics who question the credibility of the version the Jews have in their Torah and the one we have now in our Bibles.

But let’s talk about the resurrection. Apostle Paul, writer of the majority of the new testament who originally persecuted Christians but later came to know Christ, writes something interesting in 1 Corinthians 15:6”After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep'' It's estimated that this was written about 55AD but the actual ancient creed dates back to 30AD and was later implemented in Corinthians. What makes this interesting is how early the eyewitness testimony is dated to be and that it was 500 people at once. Jesus being seen by a crowd gives his sightings more credibility rather than appearing to individuals or small groups because if he had only appeared to select a few, the argument could easily be made that they were hallucinating or simply lying about it. But Paul states that Jesus was seen of about 500, who he also claims were still present the day he was writing of this, and a hallucination manifested in that large of a crowd would prove to be a bigger miracle than the resurrection itself.

So we have evidence on historical accuracy on Jesus from secular historians, early testimony on the resurrection, a surge of copied manuscripts more than any other ancient text as well as the shortest gap from the originals, and the observation of dedication from the followers of Christ who were willing to die for their beliefs, not to mention the explosion of followers from the very place Jesus walked. Jerusalem. Now I won't be ignorant. Although there is evidence, evidence we have only talked about through history, you still need faith. Why? Because you weren’t there. After going back far enough in history you need faith for a whole lot but it’s the leap that can be minimized by the amount of evidence you are presented with. If Jesus existed and was God like the New Testament tells, wouldn’t that make Christianity not only exclusive in truth but also the most important one you could ever know? The beautiful thing about Christianity that all other religion lack, is that God himself offers a way to him by paying the price we are all expected to pay. The only religion that doesn't leave it to man to work toward an eligible status because we could never be worthy of such a task.

I’ll leave with a quote from C.S. Lewis. You might know him best for his making of The Chronicles of Narnia but this quote comes from his book Mere Christianity. Lewis writes “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with ever fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in”