Early Christianity-Is the Record Sound?
Is the Bible Really the Word of God?
The Bible record is climaxed by its account of early
Christianity. Written in Greek in the first century of our Common
Era, this account relates the teachings and the powerful works
attributed to Jesus Christ and his apostles. In its pages, Jesus is
quoted as saying that he spoke 'the truth that he heard from God.'
(John 8:40). And the apostle Paul reports that believers accepted its
message, "not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as
the word of God." (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
But do the facts warrant such confidence in the Bible's record of
early Christianity? Is it factual, or does it simply set out the
imaginative writings of religious men?
Of interest in this connection is the comparison made by
Orientalist George Rawlinson, who writes:
"Christianity ... is in nothing more distinguished from the other
religions of the world than in its objective or historical character.
The religions of Greece and Rome, of Egypt, India, Persia, and the
East generally, were speculative systems, which did not even seriously
postulate an historical basis ... it is otherwise with the religion of
But, if this is true of the historical aspects of the record,
what does it indicate as to the teachings themselves? Rawlinson
"Whether we look to the Old or the New Testament, ... we find a
scheme of doctrine which is bound up with facts; which depends
absolutely upon them; which is null and void without them; and which
may be regarded as for all practical purposes established if they are
shown to deserve acceptance." [Reference available]
We have already examined the evidence in connection with the
Hebrew Scriptures, referred to by many as the "Old Testament," and
found these to be sound. Do the facts indicate the same reliability
for the Christian Greek Scriptures, or "New Testament"?
JESUS IS A HISTORICAL PERSON
Let us turn our attention first to Jesus Christ himself. Is it a
historical fact that he lived in Palestine during the early part of
our Common Era?
Tacitus, a Roman historian who lived during the latter part of
the first century C.E., was no Christian. But in his _Annals_ he
stated this fact:
"Christus" [Latin for "Christ"], from whom the name [Christian]
had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of
Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus
[Pilate]." [References available]
Josephus, who was not a Christian but a Jewish historian in the
first century, also makes mention of Jesus Christ. In his
_Antiquities of the Jews_, Josephus tells of the execution of James
whom he refers to as "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ." -
Book XX, chap. IX, par. 1.
With good reason, then, Dr. T. R. Glover, lecturer in ancient
history at Cambridge University, says:
"If the ordinary canons of history, used in every other case,
hold good in this case, Jesus is undoubtedly an historical person. If
he is not an historical person, the only alternative is that there is
no such thing as history at all - it is delirium, nothing else; and a
rational being would be better employed in the collection of snuff-
boxes. And if history is impossible, so is all other knowledge."
ARE THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS WORTHY OF ACCEPTANCE?
Though acknowledging that Jesus Christ actually did live, some
still ask how we can be sure that the accounts of his life as set out
in the four Gospels are accurate. Did Jesus really do the things
recorded in the Bible?
There were no motion pictures or tape recorders in those days.
No one is walking the earth today who lived then. So, we must
obviously rely on the written testimony of persons who lived at that
time. Where is such testimony available? The only detailed accounts
in existence are in the Bible itself. Interestingly, within its pages
are four Gospels, four distinct accounts, all harmonizing, yet each
one written from a different viewpoint and each one providing certain
details that the others do not.
But what of the testimony from other sources? Consider the
accounts in the Jewish Talmud. It is true that these clash with the
Gospels, but notice how. The conflict centers on the /means/ by which
certain events recorded in the Gospels took place, not the reality of
the events themselves.
Thus the Talmud does not question that Jesus
was born, but only the miraculous nature of his birth. It does not
deny that he performed healing and other wonderful works, but claims
that they were done by magic and sorcery. It attacks nothing else in
the Gospel accounts. Does this disprove the Gospels? Not at all.
The Gospel accounts themselves show that these were among the very
matters on which Jesus' religious opposers contended with him. (John
8:41,48; Matthew 12:24) So, unintentionally, the Talmud supports the
After examining the Talmudic references to Jesus, Jewish scholar
Klausnew impartially acknowledged: "Nothing in the Gospels was denied:
it was only perverted into a source of ridicule and blame." - _Jesus
of Nazareth_, pp. 18, 19, 53.
The ancient Roman writers also make mention of Christianity,
though most of them do so only briefly. Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal,
and even Nero's tutor Seneca confirm that Christianity quickly spread
to all parts of the Roman Empire.
But it is hardly to be expected that these worshipers of mythical
gods would speak out in favor of the message contained in the
Christian Scriptures. After all, those Scriptures attacked the very
foundation of the polytheistic worship. So it comes as no surprise
that Celsus, a sharp-witted philosopher of the second century C.E.,
wrote a severe attack on Christianity. His statements were quoted in
detail by Origen, a prominent church leader of the next century who
refuted them. In his lengthy argument, Celsus condemns, rejects, and
ridicules the Gospel accounts. But nowhere does he produce any
historical evidence to support his accusations.
STRONG INDICATIONS OF RELIABILITY
Unlike mythological writings, the Christian Greek Scriptures are
built around people who actually lived and places that exist even to
this day. With great care they specify the time in which the events
occurred. On this matter attorney Irwin H. Linton, writing in the
book _A Lawyer Examines the Bible,_ says:
"While romances, legends, and false testimony are careful to
place the events related in some distant place and some indefinite
time, thereby violating the first rules we lawyers learn of good
pleading, that 'the declaration must give time and place,' the Bible
narratives give us the date and place of the things related with the
utmost precision." - P. 38.
This is illustrated by the statement at Luke 3:1,2:
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when
Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was district ruler of
Galilee, but Philip his brother was district ruler of the country of
Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was district ruler of Abilene,
in the days of chief priest Annas and of Caiaphas, God's declaration
came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness."
Seven separate political and religious officials are here named
along with their titles. For Luke's account to be correct, all of
these had to be living and occupying the specified offices at one and
the same time, and in the regions stated. They /were/. And you can
prove that for yourself by consulting history books. Luke obviously
was making no idle boast when he wrote at the beginning of the Gospel
bearing his name: "I have traced all things from the start with
accuracy ... that you may know fully the certainty of the things that
you have been taught." (Luke 1:3,4)
HELP FOR NEW CHRISTIANS
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