Countering the Jesus Mythists (Part 1)

One of the blessings and scourges to Christian apologetics in our time is the widespread availability of electronic text publishing and digital video production. It is a great blessing because never before has the Christian layman had access to the ability to study theology and communicate the Gospel to so many people. It is a terrible scourge because never before has the quality and reliability of materials related to the Gospel been so poor.

During the whole time when I was the editor of The Forerunner newspaper, our highest press run was just under 25,000 copies. Most copies were sold nearly at cost in bundles of 100 or more for evangelism purposes. We always had a couple thousand faithful subscribers and donors. This generated a budget of a few thousand dollars a month to pay the printing, shipping, and postage bills.

Now with the Internet, has over 200,000 page accesses per month and over 100,000 visitors (according to one statistics analysis program). I recently put up some clips from the videos I’ve produced on my YouTube video blog and since November 2006 – about four months time – this has generated tens of thousands of viewers. We – meaning me and all the people who have helped me put this together over the years– are reaching many times the number of people than we did with print media and analog video.

A friend of mine, J.P. Holding, who lives just a few miles up the road in Ocoee, Florida, started in the late 1990s. It’s a similar site to in many ways. J.P. and I agree that one of the negative byproducts of the postmodernist flood of media technologies has been the emergence in droves of the “Jesus Mythists.” These are people who not only deny the existence of God, but also claim that the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth never even existed.

The proponents of the Jesus Myth theory are almost always without credentials. They do their “research” from a lot of out of date sources to prove an ill-conceived idea that almost no one in the academic community – not even the most liberal of the liberal Bible scholars – will entertain. Almost every scholar agrees that Jesus was a real person and that the Gospel accounts contain a historical outline of His acts and sayings.

The Mythists’ argument is that no one from the time of Jesus wrote anything about him. They discount all the writings of the Apostles and early Christians because they were “biased.” They discount the dozen or so accounts of Jewish and pagan writers who mention Jesus near the end of the second century because they were not eyewitnesses. What they are looking for is a “smoking gun” – an actual letter or manuscript recording the existence of written by someone prior to Jesus’ death.

Such a plea for comtemporary written evidence is extremely unreasonable. We do not doubt the existence of other ancient figures who were not written about until after their death. Until the 20th century, we had no contemporary evidence that Caiaphas the High Priest or Pontius Pilate, who were mentioned several times in the New Testament, were real people either. They are mentioned by later historians, but except for the Gospels and Acts, there was not a single letter, writing or inscription by them or by a person living in theri time who recorded their sayings or doings.

That is, until very recently.

In 1990, diggers in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City uncovered an ossuary (repository for bones) with the inscription JOSEPH SON OF CAIAPHAS. This marked the first archaeological evidence that the high priest Caiaphas, who according to the Gospels presided at the Sanhedrin’s trial of Jesus, was a real person. So, indisputably, was Pilate. In 1961, diggers in Caesarea found the fragment of a plaque indicating that a building had been dedicated by PONTIUS PILATUS, PREFECT OF JUDEA.

To the left is the Pilate inscription discovered in 1961. It reads: “PONTIUS PILATUS, PREFECT OF JUDEA.”

There is also a lot of physical evidence that validates the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus and the Apostles. Archaeologists have uncovered a first century house in Capernaum that according to tradition was the home of St. Peter. The building contains a meeting room that might have been used for worship. Some experts speculate that this was the synagogue where Jesus preached, as recounted in John 6:59;.

The Gospels contain no fewer than 45 references to boats and fishing as they relate to Jesus. These fishing communities have been proven to exist! In 1986, two members of a Galilean kibbutz came across the remains of a 26-ft.-long wooden dory, buried in the mud near Kinneret on the Sea of Galilee, that has been carbon-dated to the first century. Almost certainly, this was the kind of vessel used by Peter, James, John and the other fishermen whom Jesus recruited as his first disciples.

Although movie director John Cameron claims to have discovered the ossuary of the family of Jesus (even claiming Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene on sketchy and far-fetched evidence) it’s unlikely that we should expect find such physical or written evidence of Jesus from a contemporary source other than His disciples.

The reason is that according to the Gospels, Jesus was viewed by almost everyone during His lifetime including most of his disciples and family members — as either an ordinary rabbi, perhaps a prophet, or maybe the promised Messiah — although even Jesus’ second cousin, John the Baptist, had doubts. This view changed dramatically after the Resurrection when His followers universally began to preach Jesus as the risen Christ and Lord of the universe.

Until His death on the cross, he was controversial yet ordinary. After the resurrection, He was sensational and extraordinary.

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