Jesus Christ—Fact or Fiction?
The authenticity of Jesus Christ has been in the past, is today and will always be a hot topic of inquiry for skeptics, both those who are sincere and those who are not. And there are certain facts regarding Christ that pose questions even for Christians and truth-searchers of every type. Such questions as:
This article will endeavor to answer these questions, maybe not to the complete satisfaction of the skeptical mind, but it should at least give rise to plausible thought on which to build for the honest truth-searcher, and will clarify for the Christian the person and work of His Lord and Savior.
Can we know for sure if Jesus Christ ever existed?
There are many who claim that Jesus never existed, that He was only a mythical character. But those who make such a claim are not historians, and, if sincere, are ignorant of the facts. The world has more information about the life of Jesus Christ than just about any other person of the ancient world. His birth, life, death and resurrection are revealed in much more detail than most ancient figures whose existence is taken for granted by historians. Consider the following:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life—the Life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles.
He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those who loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (Antiquities, XVIII, III)
Major Existing Manuscripts Early Records From Event to First Existing Manuscript
Gallic Wars—Julius Caesar 10 1000 years
History—Pliny the Younger 7 750 years
History—Thucydides 8 1300 years
History—Herodotus 8 1300 years
Iliad—Homer 643 500 years
(Second most prevalent writing)
The New Testament 24,000+ 25 years
For the serious (genuine) truth-searcher in this matter, the following masterful work by Josh McDowell is recommended, which contain a much more complete list of references of ancient writers, both Christian and non-Christian, who mention Christ and His followers, not to mention a mountain of other evidentiary proofs pertaining to Jesus Christ: The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
To deny the existence of Jesus Christ in light of historical evidence is indication of either serious ignorance; or, more likely, the predisposition of a totally biased mind regarding the subject. Even the renowned Encyclopedia Britannica with approximately 20,000 words uses more space regarding Jesus Christ than it does for Aristotle, Cicero, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed or Napoleon Bonaparte.
Did Jesus Christ claim to be God, and if so, what is the significance of this fact?
Among religious leaders who have had significant impact on earth, Jesus Christ alone claimed to be God in human flesh. [Please note that this writer does not consider Christianity to be a “religion,” rather he sees it strictly as a “union” or “relationship” with the person of Jesus Christ; for “religion” implies meritorious works in order to achieve the approbation or approval of God, whereas, in Christianity this is achieved only “by grace through faith” in Jesus Christ] In all major religions the teachings—not the teacher—are all-important. Islam stresses the revelation of Allah, not Muhammad who is only a prophet. Buddhism emphasizes the principles of the Buddha and not Buddha himself. The same is true of Confucianism and Hinduism (which has no one single identifiable founder).
In Christianity the person of Jesus Christ is preeminent over any of its teachings. It is not that the teachings of Christ are unimportant, but the identity and nature of Jesus was and is vastly more important. The center of Christianity is the person of Jesus Christ. The claims of Jesus Christ are many and varied, as follows:
Jesus Christ and Jehovah of the Old Testament shared the following titles and actions:
ü Creator Isaiah 40:28—John 1:3
ü Savior Isaiah 43:11; 45:22—John 4:42
ü Raise the dead 1 Samuel 2:6—John 5:21
ü Judge Joel 3:12—John 5:27; Matthew 25:31-46
ü Light Isaiah 60:19, 20—John 8:12
ü “I AM” Exodus 3:14—John 8:58; 18:5, 6
ü Shepherd Psalm 23:1—John 10:11
ü Glory of God Isaiah 42:8; 48:11—John 17:1, 5
ü First and Last Isaiah 41:4; 44:6—Revelation 1:17; 2:8
ü Redeemer Hosea 13:14—Revelation 5:9
ü Bridegroom Isaiah 62:5; Hosea 2:16—Revelation 21:2
ü Rock Psalm 18:2—1 Corinthians 10:4
ü Forgiver of sins Jeremiah 31:34—Mark 2:7, 10
ü Worshipped by angels Psalm 148:2—Hebrews 1:6
ü Addressed in prayer Copious OT references—Acts 7:59
ü Creator of angels Psalm 148:5—Colossians 1:16
ü Confessed as Lord Isaiah 45:23—Philippians 2:11
Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be or He is the greatest and most influential imposter that has ever lived on earth. Considering the fact that Jesus Christ was not in a position of public importance—He was not a king or prominent leader, but only a lowly carpenter from a small town with only a 3-year ministry—and that a major (intensive) historical effort was made to eradicate all writings about Him, not to mention the significant number of accurate manuscripts that have survived in spite of the absence of a printing press and the existence of a small “world population” during and following His days, it is akin to miraculous that both His record and His “movement” have survived these thousands of years and have had such major impact upon mankind.
An overpowering statistical proof for Jesus Christ is found in the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies concerning Him that came true 100% of the time. A well-known once-atheist by the name of Ralph O. Muncaster finally came to totally accept the Bible as God’s Word and Jesus Christ as God in the flesh largely due to the overwhelming proof of fulfilled prophecy, a product of the Bible that is found in no “religion” (major or small) on earth—for only God knows the end before the beginning. Mr. Muncaster embark on his concentrated effort (investigative study that lasted over many years) to disprove the Bible and the claims of Jesus Christ. But during it he found that the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that came true in every single detail in the person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was undeniable and compelling (proof-positive) evidence that Jesus Christ was truly who He claimed to be. Readers are encouraged to read Mr. Muncaster’s book, A Skeptic’s Search for God.
The most convincing evidence that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be resides in the historical fact of His resurrection, which will be discussed later. But if indeed Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be, God in human flesh, this makes Him the most important personage that has ever existed upon the face of this earth. Furthermore, if indeed He was God in the flesh, it makes His purpose for coming to earth and His activity upon it the most important consideration (issue) for every single person to understand and act upon. And finally, if indeed Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, the most grievous error any person can make is to ignore Him and the grace-gift of eternal salvation that He so freely offers to everyone.
Was Jesus Christ really born of a virgin?
The Bible is clear in stating that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) This prophecy was fulfilled and portrayed in Luke 1:26-37:
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. . . . Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” . . . Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. . . . For with God nothing will be impossible.”
There are several reasons for the necessity of the virgin birth, as follows:
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth". . . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 2:22, 24)
And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)
The virgin birth is recorded as a historical fact in the Bible by Matthew who was an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ, and by Luke who was a doctor who presented many things in the life of Christ from the viewpoint of Mary, Christ’s earthly mother. The passage within the books of Matthew and Luke are authentic, with no evidence at all of any later additions to the text. The doctrine of the virgin birth has been believed and supported by the church from its beginning. Ignatius (early second century) wrote to the Ephesians and said, “For our God, Jesus the Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost.” The virgin birth of Christ is a historical fact.
Did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead, and if so, what is the importance of this event?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity. It stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “If the Resurrection is not historic fact, then the power of death remains unbroken, and with it the effect of sin; and the significance of Christ’s Death remains uncertified, and accordingly believers are yet in their sins, precisely where they were before they heard of Jesus’ name.” –W. J. Sparrow-Simpson.
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
Jesus Christ is certified or proven authentic in His nature and work through three basic credentials. They are (1) His miracles and teachings, (2) fulfilled prophecy in and by His life, and (3) His resurrection. All three are extraordinarily important; but, the resurrection is preeminent—the “crown jewel” of the three. For it best stands as certifiable proof that Jesus Christ was who He and Scripture said He was, Deity in human form—God in human flesh. And this fact is of paramount importance to the Christian Faith, for if Jesus Christ was not this then He could not have paid the penalty-price for the sins of the world and there would be no salvation from eternal damnation for mankind. The very truth of Christianity is based on the historic and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
All three of the above listed credentials confirm Jesus Christ as truly unique from the founders of the world’s major religions, but it is His resurrection that officially validates this uniqueness.
All but four of the major world religions are based on mere philosophical propositions. Of the four that are based on personalities rather than on a philosophical system, only Christianity claims an empty tomb for its founder. Abraham, the father of Judaism, died about 1900 B.C., but no resurrection was ever claimed for him.
Wilbur M. Smith says in Therefore Stand: “The original accounts of Buddha never ascribe to him any such thing as a resurrection; in fact, in the earliest accounts of his death, namely, the ‘Mahaparinibbana Sutta,; we read that when Buddha died it was ‘with that utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind.’” (Smith, TS, 385)
“Professor Childers says, ‘There is no trace in the Pali scriptures or commentaries (or so far as I know in any Pali book) of Sakya Muni having existed after his death or appearing to his disciples.’ Mohammed died June 8, 632 A.D., at the age of sixty-one, at Medina, where his tomb is annually visited by thousands of devout Mohammedans. All the millions and millions of Jews, Buddhists, and Mohammedans agree that their founders have never come up out of the dust of the earth in resurrection.” (Childers, as cited in Smith, TS, 385) (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell)
Although there have been efforts throughout the centuries to deny the historic fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; fortunately for mankind, the resurrection of Christ is one of the most well-attested historical events in the ancient world. Consider the following listing of facts taken from Ralph O. Muncaster’s What Is the Proof for the Resurrection?, Harvest House Publishers, 2000:
The tomb was empty on the third day following the death of Christ (Matthew 28:1-11; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20, 21). Those who opposed Christ at that time would have done anything to find the body and silence the resurrection story forever, but this could not be accomplished.
The empty tomb is even more significant in light of the Roman guard compliment assigned to guard the tomb (in order to prevent theft of body, which would have inflamed the resurrection story). Such a guard would have consisted of 16 soldiers, with a disciplined rotation for sleeping at night (every four hours, four would switch). The guards all faced the rigid Roman penalty of crucifixion if they slept outside of the assigned shift or deserted their post—to believe that all guards fell asleep, especially in light of the penalty for sleeping “on the job,” is entirely unreasonable.
A two-ton stone was rolled in front of the tomb, which contained Pontius Pilate’s seal and by law could not be disturbed without the guard’s approval—to do otherwise meant crucifixion upside down.
To believe, as is often advanced, that the disciples stole the body while the guards were asleep and protected by the priests from the governor (a story necessary because no one ever could produce a dead body of Christ) is a theft hardly possible in light of (1) all 16 guards would have risked the death penalty, (2) the state of shock, fear and disarray of the disciples indicates that it is entirely unreasonable that they could have quickly created such a plan and flawlessly executed it, and (3) the disciples would not have motive since if Christ was not the Son of God as He claimed, stealing the body would create a lie with no apparent benefit, and death for no purpose for the disciples.
Since the foundation of the resurrection of Christ centers on His claim as God in the flesh and since the undeniable rock-solid evidence, prior to the resurrection, that this was true is seen from Old Testament prophecies, which in themselves are proven as God-given because only God can know the “end from the beginning,” the numerous fulfilled prophecies concerning Christ in the Old Testament validates the reasonable conclusion of the resurrection.
Of the 469 prophecies in the Old Testament, 467 have been verified (no record of the other two). But the one’s pertaining to Christ (who He would be, what He would do, when He would come and where He would be born, etc.) all came true as predicted; and because these came true, there exists others that will (reasonably believable) come true, which can only be if the resurrection of Christ is true.
Jesus Himself prophesied precise details of His death and resurrection, such as:
A particular strong proof of the resurrection is found in the Apostle Paul, who was a dedicated and highly educated Pharisee and leading executor of Christians, who gave up wealth, power and comfort upon personally seeing the resurrected Christ. He subsequently, even in light of extreme persecution, founded many local churches throughout the land and wrote most of the New Testament. As a side note, several other “hostile witnesses” (Sanhedrin members and even the natural brothers of Jesus) later became believers after the resurrection.
Jesus Christ in His resurrected body appeared to the following witness:
· Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9)
· Other women (Matthew 28:9)
· Cleopas and one other on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:15-30)
· Eleven disciples and others (Luke 24:36-50)
· Ten disciples, Thomas absent (John 20:19)
· Eleven disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26-29)
· Disciples at the sea of Galilee (John 21:1)
· Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5)
· 500 brethren (1 Corinthians 15:6)
· Eleven disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:17)
· James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
· Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:8)
The Christian record is by far the most documented series of historic events of all time with existing early manuscripts exceeding 24,000—the earliest being written within 25 years of the death of Christ, this in spite of concerted efforts since His death to eradicate all such records. These documents (manuscripts) were passed on down through the centuries by skilled scribes who followed a set of extremely exacting set of rules designed to insure transmissions of sacred documents without error.
Although critics of the Bible attempt to cast doubt on it by saying it was under the control of the Roman Catholic Church, which supposedly had “opportunity and motive” to change Scripture to meet its purpose,” there are two indisputable sets of records that mankind has in its possession today that were not historically controlled by the Christian church and which verify the authenticity of the message contained in the words of the Bible of today—the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The truth and life of Christ has caused the rapid formation of an enormous body of believers that has survived the most focused and intensive persecution of all time.
Non-Christian historians and writers have recorded facts about Jesus Christ, His disciples, and the resurrection—Thallus (circa A.D. 52); Josephus (circa A.D. 64-93); Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 64-116); Pliny the Younger (circa A.D. 112); Hadrian (circa A.D. 117-138); Suetonius (circa A.D. 120); Phlegon (circa A.D. 140); Lucian of Samosata (circa A.D. 170); and Mara Bar-Serapion (circa A.D. 70)
Eleven of Christ’s disciples, who certainly knew the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, willingly and even joyfully died in support of these historical (actual) events. Martyrdom for a belief is not unique, but what kind of person would die for a known lie? The answer is only someone who is insane, which may be true of one or possible two of this group, if one wished to argue the points, but would certainly be most reasonably untrue of all eleven. For them to continue lying, if in fact Christ did not rise from the dead, would serve no purpose since Jesus’ ministry would then be moot. Yet history records that they willingly died cruel deaths for their beliefs via stoning, crucifixion, beheading, and other brutal methods.
Underneath Rome lie some 900 miles of carved caves where over seven million Christians, executed for their beliefs, were buried. Other believers hid and worshiped in these caves during the height of Christian persecution. The earliest known inscriptions in the walls were dated A.D. 70. Some early occupants probably communicated directly with eyewitnesses of Jesus. Since about A.D. 400, the Catacombs were buried and “forgotten” for over 1000 years.
In 1578 they were rediscovered by accident. Today they can be seen as silent memorials to many who died rather than curse Jesus or bow down to an emperor’s statue. Christian martyrs differed greatly from other world martyrs in that historical facts were the foundation of their beliefs—facts verifiable at the time—not just ideas. (What Is the Proof for the Resurrection by Ralph O. Muncaster)
Even those who were violently opposed to Jesus provide historical evidence, including hundreds of prophecies, prophetic feasts, and references in writings such as the Talmud.
Evidence that the people in Jesus’ time believed in the resurrection is found on caskets of bones (ossuaries) discovered in a sealed tomb outside Jerusalem in 1945. Coins minted in about A.D. 50 were found inside the caskets, dating the burial within about 20 years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Markings are clearly legible, including several statements reflecting knowledge of Jesus’ ability to overcome death. Examples of writings (in Greek) of hope for deceased loved ones include: “Jesus, Help” and “Jesus, Let Him Arise.” The caskets also contain several crosses, clearly marked in charcoal. This is powerful evidence that early Christians believed in Jesus’ ability to triumph over death. It also ties the idea of victory over death to the cross. (What Is the Proof for the Resurrection by Ralph O. Muncaster)
Aren’t there contradictions in the resurrection story of Jesus Christ?
Skeptics like to point out apparent differences as being “contradictions” in the four Gospel narratives pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But these differences ultimately confirm the truthfulness of these accounts, rather than refute them. If all four Gospel accounts gave verbatim the details of the resurrection, immediate suspicion would arise as to collusion (conspiracy and complicity) regarding the matter.
The truth is that none of the four Gospel accounts gives all the details of what transpired. Regarding any event of history personally observed and recorded by four witnesses, no series of records would produce “eye-witness” accounts exactly the same, detail for detail. One would highlight specific elements of the occurrence, leaving out others; whereas another would recall and emphasize others facets of the event.
A close examination of each Gospel account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ reveal that none of the details contradict any others but indeed they correlate together to supply the larger picture. The variations the Gospel writers chose to include in their resurrection narratives consist of details that in no way jeopardize the overall story.
One of the seeming contradictions that bother people concerns the time the women came to the tomb, related differently by John and Mark. Mark’s account has the women coming to the tomb at the rising of the sun, while John states that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb when it was dark.
This difficulty is solved when it is realized that the women had to walk quite some distance to the reach the grave, since they stayed in Jerusalem or Bethany. It was dark when they left the place in which they were staying, but when they arrived at the tomb the sun was beginning to shine. Therefore, Mark is speaking of their arrival, while John refers to their departure.
The area which has generated the most discussion concerns the angels who were at the tomb of Jesus. Matthew and Mark relate that one angel addressed the women, while Luke and John say that two angels were at the tomb. . . . [This does not contradict because] one of the angels served as the spokesman for the two . . . . There is no need to assume a discrepancy.
Though they report some of the details differently, the Gospels agree in all important points. (Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1980)
What is the importance of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross?
Whereas the resurrection of Jesus Christ concretely verified that He was God in the flesh, it was on the cross that He presented Himself as the spotless (sinless) Lamb of God and on which in one magnanimous and loving act of God’s grace He made it possible for everyone who has ever and will ever draw breath upon the face of the earth to have eternal life. It was for this act of love and grace upon the cross of Calvary that God in the person of Jesus Christ left the glory of heaven.
The facts are these: