Why is it so many have a problem with simply the existence of Jesus? Let’s talk about it in today’s Deeper Waters blog.
With the Reason Rally coming, many atheists have come to this blog to share their…um…wisdom. What has been remarkable to see is the antagonism to the idea of Jesus. No. Not really the Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. No. This is to the acceptance of any existence of Jesus whatsoever.
In reality, a claim like this is akin to going to a geological convention and claiming that the Earth is flat. Most historians writing about Jesus will reduce the idea of the Christ myth to a footnote if even that. Still, this doesn’t stop the rants of atheists thinking they’re making powerful arguments.
We are told that there is no contemporary evidence of Jesus. To begin with, this would not fit with the Pauline epistles that scholars across the board hold to be authentic. For those who don’t know, these are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. In the world of NT studies, to think that Paul did not write these is ludicrous.
Furthermore, there are several creedal statements in these epistles themselves and these would have been part of an oral tradition that predates the epistles. In these traditions, we also have testimony to the existence of Jesus. Most notable is the creed that is in 1 Cor. 15.
IF we went a little bit further, we have the gospels. Even if we place them 60-70 years after the Jesus events are reported to have happened, this is a much shorter time distance than most historians would have written about in the ancient world. This does not mean one has to accept everything in the gospels as historical, but one can realize they are built around a historical figure.
Go still not much further and we have the beginning of the Early Church with the apologists and other fathers. Notably, none of their opponents were trying to make the claim that Jesus never existed. In fact, a number of them even agreed that Jesus did things that were considered to be miracles.
If we use the line that there is no contemporary evidence, then we have to throw out the huge majority of ancient history. We can easily get rid also of the idea that there was a Jewish War in 70 A.D. After all, no one wrote about this except Josephus, and he obviously was making it up as a Jew himself to get sympathy for his people….
Ah. Josephus. We all know that the reference to Jesus in his works is entirely an interpolation.
Now it’s believed that it’s quite likely that a part of it was interpolated, but that’s only a part. Can someone produce the Josephus scholar who says that the entire thing is an interpolation?
Furthermore, this is just one passage. There is another reference to Jesus in the Antiquities in Chapter 9 of book 20 and this reference is not called into question at all.
Of course, there are other references such as those of Tacitus and Lucian and Suetonius.
The question is what best explains what I wish to refer to as a Jesus allergy amongst these new atheist types? Is it a fear that if even if the existence of Jesus is conceded then everything else comes in? Do they really think that this is an all-or-nothing game? It certainly is a characteristic of fundamentalist thought.
It certainly does not come from a study of history. In all of these claims of Jesus never existing, a real approach to historiography is never given. It would either take away too much or it would make it impossible to really claim anything as it would be too nit-picky.
Is it a not wanting to do any actual work in historical study? It would be much easier to just say Jesus never existed instead of actually having to study the Bible and seek to see how it ought to be interpreted. That does not mean you have to believe that it is true. I believe there is a true interpretation of the Koran, and that means that any interpretation that disagrees with what the author wrote is false, but that does not mean that the content of that interpretation is true.
Could it be that these atheists are so antagonistic to that idea that they want to just take the easy way out? Could it also be a part of the concept that we can admit no truth to the Bible or to religious thinking that we must simply believe everything sincerely believed by Christians is delusional?
Richard Dawkins himself has said that it is possible to mount a serious case that Jesus never existed and uses G.A. Wells as an example. Wells is not a historian however, but a professor of German, and his case is not accepted in NT scholarship. Making a case is not the same as making a good case. Would Dawkins accept it as much if we said that because apologists exist, one can make a serious case that God exists? Is it because there is an ID movement that we can make a serious case that there is a designer? Dawkins would not accept any of these, but accepts that because Wells makes a case, it means it must be a serious case.
To the atheists who are coming here, it is best for you to drop the idea that Jesus never existed. It is not taken seriously and to make a case only shows a lack of understanding of historiography and gives reason for those of us who are Christians to not take your case seriously.
By the way, it’s not just Christians like myself who make this case. Please note the following video where Bart Ehrman answers the question directly in the company of atheists:
Considering Ehrman is a champion of biblical matters to the New Atheists, hopefully they’ll take him seriously here.