I know it has been a while since we “chatted” on Twitter. I am not usually one to jump into theological debates, and am certainly not an expert on apologetics, but felt I had to interject on that day. It saddened me when the professed ‘Christian’ you were talking to claimed that there is no love apart from God, and that you were not capable of love, not even for your son.
I felt a heaviness in my spirit. It bothered me that you were being unfairly judged, and that my faith was being inaccurately represented. I replied, “This saddens me. Of course you love your son – we are all made in God’s image – capable of love”.
My comment at that time was not to ‘convert’ you, or to persuade you of my beliefs. Only to do what I could to right an obvious wrong.
After a bit of conversation, you commented that Jesus was a myth – to which I replied that Jesus was certainly not a myth, a fact, I suggested, that most atheists would agree was true.
Somewhere in the midst of our conversation, you said that if I had any evidence to back up my beliefs, that you would be willing to consider it.
I know it has taken me a while to get back to you, and for that I apologize. It is important to me to present information in a way that provokes thought, but also shows grace for differences of opinion.
There was a comment, that day, about the need for the evidence presented to stand up to the rigors of the scientific method. One of the other gentlemen went as far as to comment, “We will convert for double blind tested and peer reviewed scientific evidence”.
It is clear that you are an intellectual man, Jeffrey – one who enjoys analytical thought, evaluating ideas, and engaging others in conversation about a variety of topics.
A person of reason.
My question, respectfully submitted, is this…
How reasonable is the demand for scientific, peer reviewed, double blind tested evidence for proving the existence of a historical figure?
Would you demand the same caliber of evidence when considering the existence of Plato or Alexander the Great?
Isn’t it true, that there is a vast difference between empirical science and historical inquiry?
The question of whether Jesus existed is a historical one. This being the case, it would seem logical to use criteria that is typically employed for examining historical claims of any kind.
There are over 42 sources of historical textual evidence for the existence of Jesus, each written within 150 years of his death. Of these, 9 are found within the Christian Bible, 20 are written by other Christian writers, 4 are heretical sources, and the remaining 9 are written by secular sources, some which would be considered ‘hostile’ witnesses. (Turner, Did Jesus ever Exist?)
Here is but one example, written by Tacitus, a Roman historian writing in 112 AD…
…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 Christians by the populace. 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 Judaea, 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…
Of course, one quote by itself proves nothing, but examples like this are plentiful. If you are still not convinced, perhaps you will consider the opinion of a man who shares your skepticism regarding the deity of Christ, but is fully convinced of his historicity…
Independent confirmation is not necessary to establish the mere existence of the Jesus of the New Testament. There simply is nothing epistemically improbable about the mere existence of a man named Jesus. (Just because Jesus existed does not mean that he was born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead, etc.) Although a discussion of the New Testament evidence is beyond the scope of this paper, I think that the New Testament does provide prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus. It is clear, then, that if we are going to apply to the New Testament “the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material,” we should not require independent confirmation of the New Testament’s claim that Jesus existed.
I know that, in my own strength, I will never be able to convince you of the things I believe. Thankfully, it is not my job to convince – only to share what I know to be true.
And this I know…
Knowing Jesus has made a tremendous difference in my life. Changed everything really. I’d love to share more about this, but I don’t want to shut down the conversation by sharing things that you may not yet be ready to hear.
This may sound like foolishness to you. The Bible teaches that spiritual truths are not understood by human reason or understanding. We need God’s spirit to help us discern, or understand, his truth and his ways.
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)
I would challenge you, Jeffrey, to ask God to reveal Himself to you – that if He is real, you will become aware of His presence in a way that you will be able to recognize and understand. If there is no God, as you believe, then there will be no harm done by asking. But suppose, for a moment, that you are mistaken. Then, arguably, there is much at stake.
I am praying for you, my friend. That you would come to know Jesus personally, and not just as a topic to be debated. I would love to share more with you, either my personal experience or non-biblical reasons to believe. I hope you will be willing to continue the dialogue.