This is the ninety-eighth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of a woman named Parody Queen singing an awful parody of Stayin’ Alive. He is Alive is one of The Parody Queen’s attempts to put Christian lyrics to popular secular songs. This is how Parody Queen describes her music on her website:
In case you’re wondering, my forte’ is writing parodies — putting my original (usually Christian based) lyrics to existing popular music. I believe in taking back the music for God’s kingdom, and what better way than using already familiar tunes. Kind of like a Christian Weird Al Yankovic.
Most Evangelicals have a two-sided understanding of Jesus. There is the theological Jesus and the human Jesus. The theological Jesus is found on Sundays and in countless Christian books. While this Jesus often becomes the framework by which Evangelicals view the world, most often it is the human Jesus that determines attitudes and conduct. Let me explain this in the context of a statement often made by Evangelicals: dear Jesus, please help me see others as you do.
From a theological perspective, how does Jesus see others? Can we even answer this question? When it comes to theology, Jesus had very little to say. It is the Christian church, with its 2,000 year history, that has given us the theological Jesus. So perhaps the real question is how does the Arminian or Calvinistic Jesus see people? And now throw in countless other systematic theologies that have fueled internecine warfare among Christian sects over the past 20 centuries. Theologically then, how Jesus sees people depends upon the doctrinal beliefs of the person making the statement. I can tell you this, Calvinists see people very differently from the way Arminians do.
Most often, when Evangelicals make statements such as seeing people the way Jesus would, their conclusions come from their understanding of the human Jesus they have shaped into their own image. While most Evangelicals will categorically reject such a claim, it is clear that among Evangelicals there are numerous, often contradictory, Jesuses. While their understanding of the human Jesus is certainly shaped by theological beliefs, Evangelicals generally believe in a Jesus who looks, acts, and thinks like they do. So when Evangelicals talk about seeing people as Jesus would, what they really mean is seeing people as they see them. Take a homeless man and put him in a room of Evangelicals and ask them their opinion of this downtrodden man. I guarantee you that you will get varied and conflicting answers. The Bible does not mention how Jesus viewed the homeless, so it is impossible for Evangelicals to see them as Jesus did. When Evangelicals look at the homeless, their thoughts are processed through their previous experiences and current beliefs concerning theology, politics, sociology, and economics. Having grown up poor, I view the homeless differently from those who were raised in affluent homes. Our upbringing deeply influences how we see the world. As a father, I know that how I trained my children and the things I exposed them to affected how they view the world. As they have gotten older they have tested some of the things they were taught as children, discarding some of these teachings or reforming them and adding new observations of their own.
It for these reasons that I wish Evangelicals would stop saying that they desire to see the world as Jesus did. If that really was the case, all Evangelicals would have to do is take a pair of Thomas Jefferson scissors to the gospels. Once all the peripheral noise is edited from the text, what would be left is a glimpse of how Jesus viewed the world. And I say a glimpse, because Jesus never wrote one word about how he viewed people. What we really have are written records of how the various authors of the Gospels thought Jesus viewed others. We have no way of knowing if what they have recorded is true. Was Jesus disrespectful to his mother as is recorded in the story about the wedding at Cana? Was Jesus indifferent towards much of the suffering that surrounded him? And what do we do with Jesus’ racial bias towards those who were not Jewish? How do we explain the fact that some of Jesus’ family thought he was crazy and wished that he would move down the road and quit embarrassing them? We certainly could filter these things through some sort of theological sieve that sanitizes these negative aspects of the human Jesus, but if the goal is to see people as the human Jesus saw them, then we must come to grips with the fact that he was far from perfect, that he was, in every way, quite human.
It is time for Evangelicals to put aside the notion that they can see other people as Jesus would see them. Jesus is dead, and he left no written record by which Christians can ascertain how he viewed the residents of first century Palestine. And even if we could, I am not sure it would help us today. We live in the 21st century, not the first century. How we view the world today is very different from the way Jesus would have viewed it 2,000 years ago. One of the problems I have with Fundamentalists is that they want to judge present life by the standards of previous generations. Strict constitutionalists demand that the Constitution be interpreted according to the original intent. However, all that matters now is what the Constitution has come to mean. To a large degree it does not matter what our forefathers thought. We are governed by how the three branches of government currently interpret the Constitution. We can endlessly argue over whether the Second Amendment grants citizens the right to own firearms, when in fact the only issue is how the Second Amendment is applied today. All would agree that we no longer have well-regulated militias, so it is up to us as moderns to interpret the second amendment in the context of how we now live.
Instead of framing their cultural observations with theological jargon and talking of seeing thing as Jesus does, Evangelicals need to admit that they see people through the lenses of their own experiences and biases. There is no value in trying to see people as Jesus did. That Jesus is dead. He has been replaced by countless reincarnations of the son of God. Instead of asking who is Jesus, perhaps Evangelicals should ask themselves, who am I? When nonbelievers look at how Evangelicals live and what they say, they are not looking for some sort of historical Jesus. What unbelievers really want to see is who Evangelicals really are. Stories about a loving, compassionate, caring itinerant preacher carry little weight when compared to Evangelical behavior. What unbelievers see are actions: homophobia, racism, bigotry, sex scandals, churches and pastors accumulating vast wealth. Instead of concerning themselves with seeing people as Jesus did, Evangelicals should focus on changing how they are viewed by unbelievers. Doing so requires Evangelicals to bring a new Jesus to life, one that is divorced from the hatred and bigotry of the past 40 years.
I am sure some Evangelical readers will object to this post and say that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Is he really? Is the Jesus preached at First Baptist Church on Sunday really the Jesus of first century Jerusalem? Of course not. Whatever Jesus might have been in the early days of the common era, he is no longer that today. The Jesuses of today are very much like the people who claim he is their God. For many Evangelicals, Jesus is a personal savior, a personal God. He is a friend, lover, and confidant. For others, he is a thundering prophet who condemns homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, and a host of other perceived social ills. And for others still, Jesus is a new age guru or some sort of social worker. All nonbelievers have to do to determine which Jesus Evangelicals worship is to look at what they say and how they live. The Bible Jesus has long been dead. What’s left are countless Jesuses fashioned by human hands.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I am a big fan of Bart Ehrman. When I began to move away from Christianity, Ehrman’s books were extremely helpful. They forced me to confront my beliefs about the English Bible and the underlying Greek and Hebrew text. I was also forced to consider that many of the ideas I had about Christianity and its history were either complete fabrications or an admixture of truth and error.
I have stated many times that any Evangelical Christian who honestly reads Bart Ehrman’s books can no longer say, I believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Evangelicals might be able to hang on to some form of progressive or liberal Christian belief but Ehrman’s books are an axe to the root of Evangelical Christianity.
Ehrman’s latest book, Did Jesus Exist? is 368 pages long. As he has in the past, Ehrman writes in a manner easily understood by the non-scholar. I am sure he will be faulted, as he is every time he comes out with a new book, for not having enough footnotes or endnotes, but Ehrman knows who is target audience is and he does not weigh them down with copious notes that only the scholars among us would appreciate. The bibliography does list 45 authors and 66 books, with ample representation by authors who believe Jesus existed and those who don’t. Anyone wanting to research this matter further will find plenty of material listed in the bibliography to help them with their research.
I am not a scholar, at least in the sense the word is used in the Did Jesus Exist debate. I was a Christian for 50 years. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I have a rudimentary Bible College education. While in college I received no training in Hebrew or Greek. I was taught a narrow, truncated version of Christian church history. What knowledge I gained about Hebrew and Greek and Christian church history came from tens of thousands of hours spent in the study.
As a pastor, I was largely self-taught, and books became my education. Over time, I came to trust certain authors. This is what most non-scholars do. We decide which authors, which experts, we are going to trust. We do this all the time in virtually every sphere of life in which we are not expert. However, when it comes to the Bible, it seems everyone is an expert.
I am not a expert. I am not a novice but I am certainly not a university- and seminary-trained scholar. I am also at the place in life age-wise and health-wise where my ability to improve my academic lot is limited. I read and study as much as I can. As I do this, I again look for authors that I can trust. Dr. Bart Ehrman is one such author.
In Did Jesus Exist? Ehrman states several times that history is not a science. There is no test to prove that Jesus existed. The historian must look at the available evidence and come to a reasonable conclusion. From those conclusions, we end up with probabilities. The main question that Ehrman asks is, is it probable that Jesus existed? Based on the available evidence Ehrman says, Yes, Jesus existed.
Ehrman states in the introduction that his goal is not to convince mythicists (those who don’t believe Jesus existed) of the folly of their view. He writes :
I do not expect to convince anyone in that boat. What I do hope is to convince genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist, as virtually every scholar of antiquity, of biblical studies, of classics, and the Christian origins in this country and, in fact, in the Western world agrees. Many of these scholars have no vested interest in the matter. As it turns out, I myself do not either. I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings, and my life and views of the world would be approximately the same whether or not Jesus existed. My beliefs would vary little. The answer to the question of Jesus’s historical existence will not make me more or less happy, content, hopeful, likable, rich, famous, or immortal.
But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist. He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local mega-church, or the California Gnostic. But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him.
In any event, I need to admit that I write this book with some fear and trepidation. I know that some readers who support agnostic, atheist, or humanist causes and who typically appreciate my other writings will be vocal and vociferous in rejecting my historical claims. At the same time certain readers who have found some of my other writings dangerous or threatening will be surprised, possibly even pleased, to see that here I make common cause with them. Possibly many readers will wonder why a book is even necessary explaining that Jesus must have existed. To them I would say that every historical person, event, or phenomenon needs to be established. The historian can take nothing for granted. There are several loud voices out there, whether you tune into them or not, who are declaring that Jesus is a myth. This mythicist position is interesting historically and phenomenologically, as a part of a wider skepticism that has infiltrated parts of the thinking world and that deserves a clearheaded sociological analysis in its own right. I do not have the skills or expertise to provide that wider analysis, although I will make some brief remarks about the broad mythicist phenomenon in my conclusion. In the meantime, as a historian I can show why at least one set of skeptical claims about the past history of our civilization is almost certainly wrong, even though these claims are seeping into the popular consciousness at an alarming rate. Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves. From a dispassionate point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth.
Did Jesus Exist? has three parts:
Evidence for the Historical Jesus
The Mythicists’ Claims
Who Was the Historical Jesus?
In the first chapter Ehrman gives a brief history of the mythicist view and its relevant present-day authors. Later in the book he will come back to these authors and give their views more careful consideration. Ehrman looks at the mythicist claims of such men like Robert M Price, Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, Thomas L. Thompson, Earl Doherty, George A. Wells, Acharya S, D.M. Murdock, Timothy Freke, and Peter Gandy.
In chapter two Ehrman talks about the non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus. Ehrman makes it clear that there is no hard, physical evidence for Jesus. There is no archeological evidence. There are no writings from Jesus. Does this mean the Jesus did not exist? Hardly.
This is not much of an argument against his existence, however, since there is no archaeological evidence for anyone else living in Palestine in Jesus’s day except for the very upper-crust elite aristocrats, who are occasionally mentioned in inscriptions (we have no other archaeological evidence even for any of these). In fact, we don’t have any archaeological remains for any non-aristocratic Jew of the 20s CE, when Jesus would have been an adult. And absolutely no one thinks that Jesus was an upper-class aristocrat. So why would we have archaeological evidence of his existence?
We also do not have any writings from Jesus. To many people this may seem odd, but in fact it is not odd at all. The vast majority of people in the ancient world could not write, as we will see in greater detail. There are debates about Jesus’s literacy, if of course he lived. But even if he could read, there are no indications from early sources that he could write, and there is no reference to any of his writings in any of our Gospels. So there is nothing strange about having nothing in writing from him. I should point out that we have nothing in writing from over 99.99 percent of people who lived in antiquity. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they didn’t live. It means that if we want to show that any one of them lived, we have to look for other kinds of evidence.
Ehrman spends a good bit of the book talking about the non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus. He talks about:
Roman references: Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus
Jewish sources: Josephus
Mythicists often claim that the passage in the writings of Josephus that makes mention of Jesus was not written by Josephus, that it was added by a Christian years later. Ehrman charts a path between the extremes of yes, Josephus wrote this and no, he didn’t by suggesting that the passage in question had been embellished.
The big question is whether a Christian scribe (or scribes) simply added a few choice Christian additions to the passage or whether the entire thing was produced by a Christian and inserted in an appropriate place in Josephus’s antiquities.
The majority of scholars of early Judaism, and experts on Josephus, think that it was the former–that one or more Christian scribes “touched up” the passage a bit. If one takes out the obviously Christian comments, the passage may have been rather innocuous, reading something like this:
At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.
If this is the original form of the passage, then Josephus had some solid historical information about Jesus’s life: Jesus was known for his wisdom and teaching; he was thought to have done remarkable deeds; he had numerous followers; he was condemned to be crucified by Pontius Pilate because of Jewish accusations brought against him; and he continued to have followers among the Christians after his death.
As can be expected, Ehrman spends considerable space detailing why the gospels must be considered as historical sources. Ehrman does a good job defending the view that that gospels are a historical source and certainly are appropriate for use in determining whether or not Jesus existed. Mythicists like to reduce the gospels down to one gospel, Mark, and Ehrman makes short work of the folly of such an argument.
Ehrman concludes his chapter on The Gospels as Historical Sources with this:
The evidence I offer in this chapter is not all there is. It is simply one part of the evidence. But it is easy to see why even on its own it has proved to be so convincing to almost every scholar who ever thought about the issue. We are not dealing with just one gospel that reports what Jesus said and did from some time near the end of the first century. We have a number of surviving gospels—I name seven—that are either completely independent of one another or independent in a large number of their traditions. These all attest to the existence of Jesus. Moreover, these independent witnesses corroborate many of the same basic sets of data—for example, that Jesus not only lived but that he was a Jewish teacher who was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Even more important, these independent witnesses are based on a relatively large number of written predecessors, gospels that no longer survive but that almost certainly once existed. Some of these earlier written texts have been shown beyond reasonable doubt to date back at least to the 50s of the Common Era. They derive from locations around the Mediterranean and again are independent of one another. If historians prefer lots of witnesses that corroborate one another’s claims without showing evidence of collaboration, we have that in relative abundance in the written sources that attest to the existence of the historical Jesus.
But most significant of all, each of these numerous gospel texts is based on oral traditions that had been in circulation for years among communities of Christians in different parts of the world, all of them attesting to the existence of Jesus. And some of these traditions must have originated in Aramaic-speaking communities of Palestine, probably in the 30s CE, within several years at least of the traditional date of the death of Jesus. The vast network of these traditions, numerically significant, widely dispersed, and largely independent of one another, make it almost certain that whatever one wants to say about Jesus, at the very least one must say that he existed. Moreover, as we will now see, there is yet more evidence.
In chapter four Ehrman talks about the evidence for Jesus from later sources outside the gospels. He briefly talks about Josephus and Tacitus but he spends the bulk of this chapter giving evidence for Jesus’s existence from Christian sources like:
Ignatius of Antioch
The book of Acts
The writings of Paul
As a result of our investigation so far, it should be clear that historians do not need to rely on only one source (say, the gospel of Mark) for knowing whether or not the historical Jesus existed. He is attested clearly by Paul, independently of the Gospels, and in many other sources as well: in the speeches in Acts, which contain material that predates Paul’s letters, and later in Hebrews, 1st and 2nd Peter, Jude, Revelation, Papias, Ignatius, and 1 Clement. These are ten witnesses that can be added to our seven independent Gospels (either entirely or partially independent), giving us a great variety of sources that broadly corroborate many of the reports about Jesus without evidence of collaboration. And this is not counting all of the oral traditions that were in circulation even before the surviving written accounts. Moreover, information about Jesus known to Paul appears to go back to the early 30s of the Common Era, as arguably does some of the material in the book of Acts….
In chapter five Ehrman talks about two key data for the historicity of Jesus:
Paul’s association with Simon Peter and Jesus’s brother James.
The crucifixion of Jesus.
Paul indicates that he received some of these traditions from those who came before him, and it is relatively easy to determine when. Paul claims to have visited with Jesus’s closest disciple, Peter, and with his brother James three years after his conversion, that is around 35—36 CE. Much of what Paul has to say about Jesus, therefore, stems from the same early layer of tradition that we can trace, completely independently, in the Gospels.
Even more impressive than what Paul says about Jesus is whom he knew. Paul was personally acquainted, as I’ve pointed out,with Peter and James. Peter was Jesus’s closest confidant throughout his public ministry, and James was his actual brother. Paul knew them for decades, starting in the mid 30s CE. It is hard to imagine how Jesus could have been made up. Paul knew his best friend and his brother.
Paul also knew that Jesus was crucified. Before the Christian movement, there were no Jews who thought the Messiah was going to suffer. Quite the contrary. The crucified Jesus was not invented, therefore, to provide some kind of mystical fulfillment of Jewish expectation. The single greatest obstacle Christians had when trying to convert Jews was precisely their claim that Jesus had been executed. They would not have made that up. They had to deal with that and devise a special, previously unheard of theology to account for it. And so what they invented was not a person named Jesus but rather the idea of a suffering Messiah. That invention has become so much a part of the standard lingo that Christians today assume it was all part of the original plan of God as mapped out in the Old Testament. But in fact the idea of a suffering Messiah cannot be found there. It had to be created. And the reason it had to be created is that Jesus—the one Christians consider to be the Messiah—was known by everyone everywhere to have been crucified. He couldn’t be killed if he didn’t live.
In chapters six and seven, spanning almost a hundred pages, Ehrman talks about, and discredits, the claims of those (mythicists) who say Jesus did not exist. He returns to the writings of the mythicists I mentioned earlier.
What claims do mythicists make? Ehrman gives four claims that mythicists make:
Claim 1: The Gospels are Highly Problematic as Historical Sources.
We do not have the original texts of the gospels
We do not know the authors of the gospels
The gospels are filled with discrepancies and contradictions
The gospels contain non-historical materials
The stories in the gospels are filled with legendary material
Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist.
Claim 3: The Gospels are Interpretive Paraphrases of the Old Testament.
Claim 4: The Nonhistorical “Jesus” is based on Stories About Pagan Divine Men.
In chapter seven Ehrman homes in on mythicist claims that Jesus was a mythical being. He asks and answers several questions:
Did the earliest Christians invent Jesus as a Dying-Rising God, based on Pagan myths?
Was Jesus invented as a personification of Jewish Wisdom?
Was Jesus an unknown Jew who lived in obscurity more than a century before Paul?
Was Jesus crucified in the spiritual realm rather than on earth?
Did Mark, our first Gospel, invent the idea of a historical person, Jesus?
Ehrman’s answer to each of these questions is NO!
The final part of the book asks the question, Who was the historical Jesus? If Jesus existed who was he?
Ehrman makes clear that we must differentiate between the historical Jesus and the Jesus who Christians claim was born of a virgin, worked miracles and rose again from the dead. Before the supernatural claims can be addressed we must first determine if Jesus existed. We can believe Jesus existed without believing Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, and rose again from the dead. The former is a matter history can decide. The latter is a matter of theology, of faith.
According to Ehrman, who was Jesus? After reading the book, I would summarize Ehrman’s view like this:
Jesus was born in relative obscurity in the town of Nazareth. His parents were poor and his father was a common laborer. As an adult Jesus became a disciple of John the Baptist, and over time became an Jewish apocalyptic prophet. He was crucified by the authority of Pontius Pilate.
In the final part of the book Ehrman has much to say about the apocalyptic proclamations of Jesus and his apocalyptic activities. He makes a compelling case for Jesus, the apocalyptic prophet. I plan to write several posts in the future about several interesting points Ehrman makes about Jesus and the works he did during his three years of public ministry.
I have no doubt that the diehard mythicists who frequent this website will not be convinced by Bart Ehrman’s, Did Jesus Exist? I can only hope they will read the book and it will force them to add a bit of nuance and temper to their claims. I also hope their wilder claims will die the swift death they deserve.
For the rest of my readers I hope the book will be instructive and will provide ammunition when debating with Evangelical Christians about the inerrant, inspired, infallible Word of God.
For Christian readers of this blog (yes, I know you are out there) the book is likely to be offensive, instructive, or affirming depending on how you open you are and how you view the Bible itself. I can only hope this book will be widely read in Christian circles.
As our family gathered together to watch Ohio State go down in flames to Kansas last night, I told them that I thought Did Jesus Exist? was Bart Ehrman’s best book (and I have all of them). While Ehrman spends a good bit of time dealing with mythicist claims he also spends a lot of time detailing how we should read the Bible and judge its historical reliability. I daresay if Evangelical Christians are willing to read the book with an open mind they will never view the Bible or Jesus the same again.
Who is Dr. Bart Ehrman?
Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, Jesus, Interrupted, and Forged. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured on a variety of top media outlets.
This is the twenty-third installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please email me the name of the bit or a link to it.
According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, (link no longer active) the 2010 population of the Jerusalem district was 924,000. In 1948, the population of the Jerusalem district was 87,000. According to Wikipedia, the 1st century population of Jerusalem was around 80,000, though this population would swell during Passover and other religious observances. When I lived in Yuma, Arizona, I observed a similar swelling of the population when the snow birds arrived to spend winter in Yuma. Whatever the population of Jerusalem was during the three-year public ministry of Jesus, there were plenty of people who observed his works. Surely, there were thousands of eyewitnesses who could have written something about Jesus’s miracles, and his death, resurrection, ascension back to heaven. Surely, there were eyewitnesses who could have written something about the acts of the Apostles and the early church. Why then, is there little or no historical record for the life and work of Jesus or the early followers of Jesus? God striking church members dead or causing the followers of Jesus to speak in unknown tongues surely were notable events, yet there is no record of them outside of the Bible. Why is this?
According to the Bible, the events leading up to the death of Jesus, his crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead, took place during Passover. After the post-resurrection ministry of Jesus, Jesus ascended back to heaven, and on the Day of Pentecost, while the followers of Jesus were gathered in an upper room, they were filled (baptized) with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2)
Acts 2:1-6 states:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
This miracle of speaking with other tongues caused quite a stir and, as a result, on one day:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
In fact, according to according to Acts 2:47:
And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Every day people were being saved, baptized, and added to the church, or so says the author of the book of Acts.
In Acts 3,4 we find Peter and John going to the Temple to preach the gospel. While they faced great adversity from the Sadducees over their preaching that through Jesus people could be resurrected from the dead, Acts 4:4 states:
…many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
So, in a short amount of time, the Acts narrative moves from 120 followers of Jesus being gathered in an upper room to 3,000 people being saved, baptized, and added to the church, to 5,000 men believing the preaching of gospel. Yet, outside of the New Testament, which was written decades after the events recorded in Acts 1-4, there is no historical mention of a large number of people becoming followers of Jesus. There is no mention of 3,000 people being publicly baptized on one day. There is no mention of a large gathering of Jesus followers in the outer court of the Temple.
In fact, there is no non-Biblical historical record for any of the astounding events recorded in the Gospels and Acts. Suppose a well-known man died in the community you live. You saw him die. With your own eyes you saw his dead, embalmed body. Yet, three days later, this same man came back to life and was sitting with his family and friends at the local Applebee’s. Do you think such a miraculous event would make the front page of the newspaper? Do you think it would be trending on Twitter? Do you think everyone in your community would quickly know about the dead man brought back to life? Yet, when it comes to Jesus the miracle worker, a man who purportedly raised people from the dead, cast demons out of people, gave sight to the blind, restored the hearing of the deaf, walked on water, and walked through walls, there is no non-Biblical historical record of any of his works.
According to the Bible, Jesus was well-known in Jerusalem. When he came riding into Jerusalem on a colt (or an ass, you decide) people lined the streets and cheered him. This same man, a short time later, was arrested, publicly humiliated, nailed to a cross like a common thief, and buried in a borrowed grave. Three days later, however you count three days, this same well-known Jesus resurrected from the grave and appeared to over 500 people. Pretty news worthy stuff, right? Yet, outside of the Bible, there is no historical record of these events.
Even more astounding, according to Matthew 27, at the moment Jesus died:
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
At the very moment Jesus died, the veil of the Temple, a curtain that was likely 30 feet wide, 60 feet high, and four inches thick, (using 18 inches as the measurement for a cubit) was torn in half. And according to the Gospel of Mark, there was an eclipse at the moment of, or right before Jesus died. Ponder for a moment such astounding events, yet, outside of the Bible, there is no record of them ever occurring.
If that is not astounding enough, consider that the Bible says when Jesus died the graves of the saints were open and out popped resurrected followers of Jesus. These resurrected saints went into Jerusalem and appeared to many people. Yet, not only is there no non-Biblical historical report of this happening, none of the other gospel writers or Paul mention it. Surely, dead relatives and dead fellow believers resurrecting from the dead and walking about the city of Jerusalem would be important to 1st century Christians, yet outside of Matthew no one mentions it.
Yes, later Christian authors, working from the text of the Bible and stories passed down to them, speak of these events being true, but why are there no Roman or Jewish historical writings that mention these astounding events?
I am well aware of the various arguments that can be made, but I don’t buy them. It seems far more likely that these miraculous, astounding events never happened. Yes, Josephus possibly said:
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 Messiah. 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.
I say possibly because what Josephus actually said is a matter of great debate. (the oldest manuscript of Josephus’s writings is dated a thousand years after his death) Regardless of the authenticity of the aforementioned passage, Josephus does not mention, outside of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, any of the miraculous events that occurred at the time of the death of Jesus. Why is this?
This is one of the reasons that I do not believe the Christian narrative. While this is not proof for there being no God, it does call into question the narrative that many Christians proclaim is truth.