Why Jesus is Lord
Historical Textual Evidence for Jesus’ Existence
There are over 42 sources within 150 years after Jesus’ death which mention his existence and record many events of his life.
- 9 Traditional New Testament Authors
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude.
- Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.
- Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and Treatise on Resurrection.
- Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallus.
Historical Textual Evidence for Tiberius Caesar’s Existence
Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor who reigned during Jesus’ ministry, has 10 authors who mention his existence within 150 years of his life. These include: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca, Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Valerius Maximum, and Luke. If one removes Luke, since he is a New Testament source, there are 9 secular non-Christian sources. This means that there are just as many non-Christian sources for Jesus’ existence as there are for Tiberius Caesar’s! And, to compare, the total number of sources between Jesus and Tiberius Caesar are 42:10. Therefore, there are over four times as many sources for Jesus’ life and deeds than for Tiberius Caesar’s.
If one is going to doubt the existence of Jesus, one must also reject the existence of Tiberius Caesar.
Equally as intellectually impaired are those that claim Christianity is based on pagan mythology.
First of all, Christianity does not need any outside influence to derive any of its doctrines. All the doctrines of Christianity exists in the Old Testament where we can see the prophetic teachings of Jesus as the son of God (Zech. 12:10), born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), was crucified (Psalm 22), the blood atonement (Lev. 17:11), rose from the dead (Psalm 16:10), and salvation by faith (Hab. 2:4). Also, the writers of the gospels were eyewitnesses (or directed by eyewitnesses as were Mark and Luke) who accurately represented the life of Christ. So, what they did was write what Jesus taught as well as record the events of His life, death, and resurrection. In other words, they recorded history, actual events and had no need of fabrication or borrowing.
There will undoubtedly be similarities in religious themes given the agrarian culture. Remember, an agriculturally based society, as was the people of the ancient Mediterranean area, will undoubtedly develop theological themes based upon observable events, i.e., the life, death, and seeming resurrection of life found in crops, in cattle, and in human life. It would only be natural for similar themes to unfold since they are observed in nature and since people created gods related to nature. But, any reading of the Old Testament results in observing the intrusion of God into Jewish history as is recorded in miracles and prophetic utterances. Add to that the incredible archaeological evidence verifying Old Testament cities and events and you have a document based on historical fact instead of mythical fabrication. Furthermore, it is from these Old Testament writings that the New Testament themes were developed.
Following is a chart demonstrating some of the New Testament themes found in the Old Testament.
|Theme||Old Testament |
fulfilled in Jesus
|Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God||Ps. 110:1||Matt 26:64; Acts 7:55-60; Eph. 1:20|
|Atonement by blood||Lev. 17:11||Heb. 9:22|
|Begotten Son, Jesus is||Psalm 2:7||Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5|
|Crucifixion||Psalm 22:11-18; Zech. 12:10||Luke 23:33-38|
|Eternal Son||Micah 5:1-2; Psalm 2:7||Heb. 1:5; 5:5|
|God among His people||Isaiah 9:6; 40:3||John 1:1,14; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Matt. 3:3|
|Incarnation of God||1)Ex 3:14; 2)Ps. 45:6 Isaiah 9:6; Zech. 12:10||1)John 8:58; 1:1,14; 2)Heb. 1:8; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:1-3|
|Only Begotten Son||Gen. 22:2. See Typology||John 3:16; Heb. 11:7|
|Resurrection of Christ||Psalm 16:9-10; 49:15; Is. 26:19||John 2:19-21|
|Return of Christ||Zech. 14:1-5; Mic. 1:3-4||Matt. 16:27-28; Acts 1:11; 3:20|
|Sin offering||Ex. 30:10; Lev. 4:3||Rom. 8:3; Heb. 10:18; 13:11|
|Son of God||Psalm 2:7||John 5:18|
|Substitutionary Atonement||Isaiah 53:6-12; Lev. 6:4-10,21||Matt. 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18;|
|Virgin Birth||Isaiah 7:14||Matt. 1:25|
As you can see, there is no need for any of the Christian writers to borrow from anything other than the Old Testament source in order to establish any Christian doctrine concerning Jesus. If the argument that pagan mythologies predated Christian teachings and therefore Christianity borrowed from them is true, then it must also be truth that the pagan religions borrowed from the Jewish religion because it is older than they are! Given that all of the Christian themes are found in the Old Testament and the Old Testament was begun around 2000 B.C. and completed around 400 B.C., we can then conclude that these pagan religions actually borrowed from Jewish ideas found in the Old Testament. Think about it, the idea of a blood sacrifice and a covering for sin is found in the first three chapters of Genesis when God covered Adam and Eve with animals skins and prophesied the coming of the Messiah.
Furthermore, those who wrote about Jesus in the New Testament were Jews (or under the instruction of Jews) who were devoted to the legitimacy and inspiration of the Old Testament scriptures and possessed a strong disdain for pagan religions. It would have been blasphemous for them to incorporate pagan sources into what they saw as the fulfillment of the sacred Old Testament scriptures concerning the Messiah. Also, since they were writing about Jesus, they were writing based upon what He taught: truth, love, honesty, integrity, etc. Why then would they lie and make up stories and suffer great persecution, hardships, ridicule, arrest, beatings, and death all for known lies and fabrications from paganism? It doesn't make sense.
The alleged pagan parallels to Jesus’ resurrection are (1) unclear, (2) have late testimony that postdates Christianity, (3) may not be referring to an actual resurrection, (4) lack historical evidence, (5) misunderstand the Jewish influence on early Christianity, and (6) fail to explain the positive evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
The first problem is that the accounts of dying and rising gods in other religions are unclear. Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist, records some of these "parallels" in an attempt to convince the Roman emperor that the Christian's teachings were not that dissimilar from other Roman religions which were favored by the empire. Justin appealed to various examples, including Aesculapius who was struck by lightning and ascended to heaven, Baccus and Hercules and a few other sons who rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus after having died violent deaths, Ariadne who was “set among the stars,” and finally the cremation of the emperor Augustus in which someone claimed that he saw Augustus’s spirit ascend towards heaven.3 However, Justin’s parallels are extremely unclear. As Habermas and Licona note, “If we were to consider these as parallels to Jesus’ resurrection, we would also have to consider every ghost story."
Late Testimony: After Christianity
Second, the first clear dying and rising god parallel to the resurrection story of Jesus occurs at least 100 years after the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. For example, the earliest versions of the death and resurrection of Adonis appeared after A.D. 150. The accounts of Attis, the Phyrgian god of vegetation who was responsible for the death and rebirth of plant life, are not until the 3rd century A.D. (200 A.D.) or later. Therefore, the Christians did not follow a genre of “dying and rising gods” since such parallels did not exist during their time period.
Questionable if Referring to a Resurrection
Third, it is questionable if the pre-Jesus pagan resurrection accounts are actually referring to a resurrection. In the accounts of Marduk there is no clear death or resurrection mentioned. Adonis, in the earliest visions, contains no death or resurrection reports. His first death and resurrection accounts do not occur until after A.D. 150. Osiris has conflicting accounts. Some accounts say that he is assigned to the underworld and others refer to him as the “sun.” However, there are no accounts or claims that Osiris rose from the dead.
The only account of a god who survived death that predates Christianity is found in Osiris. However, as mentioned above, there are several versions of his story. In one, he is killed by his brother, cut into fourteen pieces, and scattered in Egypt. The goddess Isis then collects his parts and bring him back to life, but she was only able to find thirteen parts. Furthermore, it is questionable whether Osiris was brought back to life on earth or seen by others like Jesus. Osiris descends and was given status of the underworld as god of the mummies. Interestingly, it is more of a zombification rather than a resurrection! Finally, the hero in the story is not Osiris, but Isis or Horus, their son. This is extremely different from Jesus who is the heroic risen prince of life who was seen by others on earth before his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:1-11).
Lack of Historical Evidence
Fourth, the accounts of dying and rising gods in other religions lack historical evidence, and can be accounted for by opposing theories such as legendary embellishment or lack of historicity. Interestingly, these dying and rising vegetation gods like Osiris and Adonis are not real people in history like Jesus (see: Did Jesus ever exist?). Furthermore, they are not attested by multiple sources, and the first available manuscript is far removed from the event that is described. For example, The Life of Apollonius by Philostratus, postdates Jesus by 200 years and is thought to be a “product of conscious reaction against Christianity.” Therefore, these pagan parallels are late and not around the time when eyewitnesses could be questioned.
Jewish not Pagan Ideas
Fifth, early Christianity was birthed in a Jewish cultural context. The early Christians, in fact, worshiped in the Jewish temple (i.e. Acts 2:46; 5:42) and believed that Christ's resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (1 Cor. 15:3-4). In light of this, these Jewish Christians believed in a physical resurrection which was a view that was not accepted by the Greco-Roman culture who ridiculed such an idea (Acts 17:31-32). Therefore, it is unlikely that these Jewish Christians would adopt pagan mythology.
Positive Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus
Sixth, and finally, the idea of the resurrection story being borrowed from pagan religions is unconvincing for several reasons since it does not explain the empty tomb, the early belief of the disciples in the resurrection of Jesus due to eyewitness testimony, the transformation of the disciples, the conversion of Paul, and the conversion of James.
First, the empty tomb of Jesus contains strong historical corroboration due to the unreasonableness of the disciples to preach an empty tomb in Jerusalem when the critics of Christianity could have just uncovered the tomb, the fact that early polemics between Christians and Jews presuppose the empty tomb, and finally, the fact that women who were not regarded highly by ancient society are the chief witnesses of the empty tomb! If the resurrection story of Jesus was borrowed from pagan mythology, then there would be no need for an empty tomb.
Second, we have extremely early testimony to the disciples’ belief that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them. A pre-Pauline creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 has been dated by critical scholars to the early 30’s A.D. This does not allow enough time for legend to embellish the core story of the text. In fact, the events upon which the creed is based points right back to the early 30's, possibly only a year or even months from the resurrection event itself. This would indicate that there really is no significant gap in time for legendary embellishments to explain the disciple’s core belief in the resurrection.
The early nature of the resurrection appearance accounts points to at least one, and possibly multiple, eyewitness accounts. At least Paul in A.D. 55 mentions his own eyewitness resurrection account (1 Cor. 15:8). In fact, the atheistic historian Michael Martin states that Paul is the only eyewitness that we have of the resurrection. It is also quite possible that the 1 Cor. 15:3-8 creed also contains eyewitness material from the twelve, all of the apostles, Peter, James, 500, etc.
Third, the disciples were radically transformed from despairing doubters to persevering proclaimers of the gospel. Is it really realistic to think that a pagan resurrection story is going to inspire pious Jews to adopt pagan ideology, change their worship from Saturday to Sunday, radically alter their views about their Messiah, change from despair about their dead Messiah, and then be willing to die for their faith and start proclaiming this “gospel” with conviction to hostile monotheistic audiences?
Fourth, Paul converted to Christianity as a result of what he claims is an eyewitness appearance of the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:8), endured much persecution (2 Cor. 11:23-28; Phil. 1:21-23; Acts 14:19; 16:19-24), and was willing to die for his faith. Is it really reasonable to believe that he became a Christian due to adopting pagan mythology and would be willing to die for this belief? As an educated Pharisee, he would have seen through the unhistorical claims of the pagan mythological parallels.
Fifth, James, the brother of Jesus, was also converted to Christianity as a result of an appearance of the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7) and was willing to die for his faith (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:200; Hegesippus in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History 2:23; and Clement of Alexandria in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History 2:1, 23). Before this appearance, he was a skeptic and did not believe that his brother was the Messiah (Mk. 3:21; Jn. 7:5). Like Paul, it is extremely improbable, that as a pious Jew, these pagan parallels would have motivated him to believe in Jesus and be willing to die for his faith.
Think about this, only one of the original disciples died of old age. Judas committed suicide immediately after betraying Jesus. All the rest were martyred. Slowly, painfully killed. All they had to do to prevent this was simple, renounce Jesus. Just say they were lying. Or even say that maybe they were mistaken, and all of the miracles they saw were illusions or tricks. But they didn't. Tell me this, what would it take for you to give your life in a slow, agonizing, torturous manner?
"In this book, they list ten steps in the course of human evolution, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and would have burned up the earth. They estimate the probability of the evolution of the human genome by chance to be on the order of 4∧(360)^110,000, a number which is so huge that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement. In other words, if evolution did occur, it would have been a miracle, so that evolution is actually evidence for the existence of God”-William Lane Craig