Re: Gym Debate: Did Jesus really exist? (Kabane vs. HELLBOY)
Good day, good day. This is my first formal debate on the existence of Jesus, though I’ve been doing it informally for quite some time. HELLBOY, I warn you in advance, I am quite familiar with mythicist arguments and tactics, I will not be shocked if you bring up Mithra, Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, or any pagan “godmen”. I will not be befuddled if you claim Josephus was a forgery. I will not be dumbfounded if you claim that Tacitus was too late. I will not be stumped if you claim that using the gospels is circular. But enough with the rhetoric! Onto the evidence!
We have three prime sources for the existence of Jesus. The biblical gospels, the Pauline epistles, and the secular references. I will be focusing in this debate on the biblical gospels and the secular references, primarily because my material on Paul is a work in progress, and he will be incorporated into future debates on this topic. So, where to begin?
The Secular Evidence
The two historians I cite in favor of Jesus’ historicity are Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century, and Tacitus, A Roman historian of the early second century. Before we begin, let’s make a note. A source does not have to be contemporary to be reliable or accurate.
Secular Reference #1: Josephus, Antiquities 18
Moving to the first historian, Josephus. He says first in Antiquities Book 18 chapter three section three,
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of strange works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.
Now we already see some strange things with this passage. Flavius Josephus was a non Christian, so why would he write of the resurrection and divine attributes? These parts were clearly interpolated. Let’s read the quote with all the clearly interpolated passages removed:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of strange works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, and the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.
Certain skeptics will immediately object that there is no reason to keep any of it if we know some parts were interpolated. Well, there actually is. Josephan vocabulary is used throughout the parts of the passage which are not clearly Christian in nature. In other words, Josephan vocab is specifically correlated with the non glowing parts of the text. Where a Christian did clearly insert an interpolation, there is non Josephan vocabulary present. This is a correlation which has never been explained.
Let’s deal with some objections to the Josephus passage.
It is sometimes said that scholars are universally against the passage. This is a patent falsehood. According to a survey of all the literature by Louis Feldman, the majority of Josephan scholars accept the passage as partially genuine.
Out of Context
It is often stated that the Josephus passage is out of context, and that it does not relate to the surrounding text. This is a rare case where both premises are wrong. First, it does in fact relate to the surrounding text. Josephus is composing a section on Pilate, and Jesus was crucified by Pilate. Second, Josephus did not organize his material well. One Josephan scholar referred to him as a patchwork writer. This argument clearly carries no weight.
Table of Contents
Another objection to the passage is that it is not noted in the Table of Contents. For this argument to work, the passage must have contained some special prominence to the author of the table of contents. Unfortunately for the mythicist, this is not true. The table of contents was most likely composed by one of his assistants, and the Testimonium contained no special prominence.
Quotations by Christian Writers
Some skeptics complain of the lack of quotations of this passage prior to Eusebius. However, in the original version, there was no reason to quote it. Everyone acknowledged the existence and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. They didn’t have to prove it.
Secular Reference #2: Josephus, Antiquities 20
Josephus also mentions Jesus in Antiquities, book 20, chapter 9, section 1. He says:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.
Jesus bar Damneus?
Certain skeptics parrot as Kenneth Humphreys and argue that the Jesus here was the same as Jesus bar Damneus, mentioned later in the chapter. They argue that “the so-called Christ” was an interpolation. But there is no evidence that was an interpolation. That was the likely title Josephus used to distinguish Jesus the so-called Christ from Jesus bar Damneus. Note that he says “the so-called Christ” not “the Christ”
Secular Reference #3: Tacitus, Annals 15
Now, we can move to Tacitus. In Annals Book 15, chapter 44, the Roman historian Tacitus states the following:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.
Now, it is the universal consensus of scholars that this passage is authentic. Any hint that it is forged is a fringe argument. We will address these poor excuses for arguments, however.
Let’s note that Tacitus completely rails against Christians in this passage, calling Christianity a pernicious superstition, hideous, evil, etc. No Christian would have written this. Complaining that this is actually evidence for the forgery because it is a “clever forgery” is not only an ad hoc fallacy, it is a fallacy of the conspiracy.
Procurator vs. Prefect
Some argue against its authenticity by saying that Tacitus mistakenly calls Pilate a procurator instead of prefect. However, Josephus is universally translated as having called Pilate a procurator as well. There may have been little distinction between these two terms, or Pilate may have in fact held both posts. But the point stands that this is likely a misunderstanding on our parts, not on the part of Tacitus or a careless forger.
Early Christian Quotations
As with Josephus, there are complaints that no Christian quotes this passage. However, note the tone of the passage. Why the heck would any Christian willingly quote this passage to prove what everyone admitted happened, namely, the crucifixion of Christ and the Neronian persecution?
If the skeptic grants that the passage is genuine, as many mythicists do, they will usually fall back on one of two defenses. The first is that Tacitus was repeating Christian gossip. And the second is that this passage did not actually refer to the Christ and Christians, but to some other sect.
First, the idea that Tacitus was parroting Christian gossip is complete baloney. As we can see from the negative tone of the reference, Tacitus disdained the Christians. Tacitus was a friend of Pliny. However, he refused to use some information from him because he considered it absurd! Now, could someone explain how he refused to use some information from his friend because he found it unreliable, but how he carelessly took from his enemies?
Also note his extreme reliability. Ronald Mellor, a noted Tacitean scholar, says of Tacitus, “If research is the consultation and evaluation of sources, there can be little doubt that Tacitus engaged in serious research though it is not often apparent in the smooth flow of his narrative. Tacitus consulted both obscure and obvious sources," and "distinguishes fact from rumor with a scrupulosity rare in any ancient historian.”
Not Jesus’ Christians?
Now, as for the absurd idea that this passage is not referring to the Christians and Christ as we know it, let us consider the arguments for this. It essentially rests on one of two arguments. Christus was not a misspelling of Christ. It was a common name. False. Chrestus, as said by Suetonius, was a common name. Christus was not. Christus was misspelling of Christ.
The second argument is that Christ was a title, not a name, and that there were many so-called messiahs. Okay, that’s nice. So could someone point me to one of these so called messiahs who was crucified by Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, and had followers called Christians who were persecuted by Nero and blamed for the fire of Rome? Sounds like a clone of Jesus to me.
Conclusion: The Secular Evidence
The secular evidence is clear in attesting to the existence of Jesus. We have three authentic references from highly capable historians. The burden is on the skeptic to show that these references are either inauthentic, or unreliable.
The Gospel Evidence
The four gospels are our next piece of evidence. We will demonstrate their historicity by showing their authorship.
Because I am using the Bible, does that mean that my reasoning is circular? No. Here is my logic, laid out formally:
Premise One- If a person’s existence is attested in a reliable work of history, he existed.
Premise Two- The gospels are reliable works of history
Premise Three- The gospels attest to the existence of Jesus
Conclusion- Therefore, Jesus existed.
You may disagree with my premises, but my logic is not circular. It is perfectly sound logic. If someone wants to tell me that my logic is circular, please lay it out formally.
I doubt that anyone will disagree with premise one or premise three of my syllogism, so my focus here will be on premise two. Let’s get started. I will establish the authorship of the gospels to establish their reliability.
The Gospel of Matthew
We will first deal with the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. Before we look at this, a comment must be made. The title of Matthew must have been added early, and people must have associated the gospel with Matthew early because if not, then people would add different titles to the work.
Papias says in 125 CE,
Matthew made an arrangement of the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each translated them as he was able…
This may be referring to an early Aramaic, "proto-Matthew", which a disciple of Matthew later rearranged into Greek.
Irenaeus confirms Matthean authorship in about 180 CE.
We also have the book titles confirming Matthean authorship. No other author is identified in any manuscript of Matthew.
Let us compare this with secular works, such as the Annals of Tacitus. Going with my date of 55, Matthew is identified as the author of Matthew 55-75 years after his gospel was composed.
With the Annals of Tacitus, the first definite ascription of it to Tacitus comes from Tertullian, quoting it 100 years after it's composition! So the external evidence for Matthew is stronger for Matthean authorship of Matthew than it is for Tacitean authorship of the Annals! Next, internal evidence.
We have quite a wealth of internal evidence for the authorship of Matthew. The story of the fish and the coin would have interested Matthew as a tax collector. As noted by many scholars, the style of Matthew is systematic. Contrary to many scholars, this actually indicates Matthean authorship, as Matthew would have been particularly systematic as a tax collector.
When referring to his house, the author of Matthew refers to it as the house rather than his house.
Also worthy of note is the technical monetary term found in Matthew 22:15-22, as compared to the standard term used in the parallel passages in Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26. Matthew uses monetary terms such as debts” in 6:12 where the Lukan parallel has “sins”; “bankers” in 25:27, drachma in 17:24; stater in 17:25; and talent in 18:24.
The Gospel of Mark
Next, let’s deal with the authorship of the Gospel of Mark. The first interesting thing we notice is that Mark is not prominent at all, and he is not an eyewitness, though he does serve as the interpreter of Peter. However, if the early church simply wanted to add apostolic authority to this gospel, why not make it the Gospel of Peter instead of attaching Mark’s name and saying he served as the interpreter of Peter?
The most compelling reason is that that is actually what happened, and the church was very careful with matters of authorship. We now continue to external evidence. Papias, writing in about 125 AD, says,
Mark indeed, since he was the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, but not in order, the things either said or done by the Lord as much as he remembered.
As noted in our section on Matthew, this external evidence is better than the evidence for the external evidence for Tacitean authorship of Annals, and no serious scholar disputes Tacitean authorship of Annals.
Next, internal evidence. It is incredibly hard to establish internal evidence for Markan authorship of the Gospel of Mark, considering how little we know about this figure. However, we can establish that it was written based on material preached by the Apostle Peter. Throughout his gospel, Peter is given prominence. He is consistently ordered first in the inner circle. It includes information like that Andrew was the brother of Peter. It contains inclusio devices indicating Peter as the source of information.
Considering all this evidence, the most likely conclusion is that the Gospel of Mark was authored by Mark based on the testimony of the Apostle Peter.
The Gospel of Luke
We now move to the authorship of the Gospel of Luke. Before we move to this, however, we must establish common authorship of Luke and Acts. Both books have similar prefaces addressed to the same person. They have extensive linguistic and theological similarities. Given this evidence, it is most reasonable to conclude common authorship.
If Luke was authored by Luke, who was a companion of Paul, then what Luke wrote of, Paul must have known of. This invalidates any arguments from silence a mythicist or skeptic uses based on Paul’s epistles. Furthermore, Paul received his information from the apostles, so Luke must have used that information as a source, and therefore it can be considered a reliable document.
We must first consider external evidence. We have nothing from Papias on the Gospel of Luke this time. However, Justin Martyr attributes a gospel to Luke the Physician in about 140 CE.
Next, internal evidence. As we have formerly noted, Acts has the same author as Luke, so establishing the author of Acts establishes the author of Luke. Luke uses technical medical language in his books. Since Luke was a physician, this is what we would expect if the author of Luke-Acts was indeed Luke.
The most powerful piece of evidence for the Lukan authorship of Luke-Acts are the we passages in the book of Acts. This indicates an author who was there, and therefore would refer to the events in first person.
In response to the we passages, some scholars have argued that this was simply the normal way of reporting ancient sea voyages. [Robbins] However, we passages are only used in three of the seven sea voyages and are used in several land voyages! Furthermore, it has now been shown that Robbins, the creator of the theory, misread the secular texts he based his theory on.
The author of Luke has written the best Greek in the New Testament, which means he has a high degree of culture, however, he is unfamiliar with Aramaic or Hebrew, which means he is a Gentile, not a Jew. All of these factors point towards Luke as the author of Luke-Acts.
The Gospel of John
We now move towards the Gospel of John, the gospel with the most disputed authorship.
As usual, we will begin with external evidence. Irenaeus, writing in about 180 CE, relates a tradition given to him by Polycarp:
“ John, the disciple of the Lord, who leaned back on his breast, published the Gospel while he was resident at Ephesus in Asia”
Irenaeus quoted Polycarp here, who was a disciple of the apostle John. Thus, this testimony may be traced back to the apostle John himself. This piece of evidence is tremendously important, and we could establish Johannine authorship based simply on this.
But we still have internal evidence. Dr. Craig Blomberg says on the author of this gospel: “[he] accurately understands Jewish customs, is steeped in the Old Testament, is aware of finer points of distinction among pre-70 Jewish sects...His knowledge of the geography and topography of Israel is excellent...John's Gospel regularly demonstrates Jesus and his Jewish opponents discussing 'halakhic' (legal) regulations relatively unique to Israel, and portions of the Gospel demonstrate affinity with distinctive Samaritan forms of thought.”The apostle John clearly fits the portrait painted here.
The professional fishermans term for cooked fish is used in the Gospel of John. As John is a fisherman, this is what we would expect if the apostle wrote this gospel. Furthermore, we have John leaving out stories found in the Synoptic Gospels where the apostle is prominent. This fits with the ancient dialectic of honor and shame, and is thus evidence for Johannine authorship.
Finally, the author of John refers to John the Baptist as simply “John” instead of “John the Baptist”. This is what we would expect if the author was the apostle rather than someone who needed to distinguish between the two.
Conclusion: The Gospel Evidence
The gospels, authored by eyewitnesses or those connected to them, are indeed good sources of information for the historical Jesus, and at the very least establish his existence.
It rests that there is sufficient evidence from secular and biblical texts to conclude that Jesus was a figure of history. Thank you.
God became man so that man might become god. -St. Athanasius of Alexandria