This is the second in a series of posts on Jesus and history.
Not so many years ago, christians could talk about Jesus and quote the Bible as their authority, and it wasn’t much questioned. People may not have believed in Jesus or followed his teaching, but few doubted he lived and taught and died. But things have changed in a few decades.
It is now not uncommon to find people who doubt Jesus even existed, and certainly don’t believe the Gospels have much of a basis in history. And there is a growing library of books, a few by recognised scholars, others from a little further afield, to support these views. When we talk about Jesus, it is quite possible that we will be asked for more evidence.
How should christians respond?
It isn’t unreasonable for a non-believer to ask for historical evidence, and christians need to know how to answer. I suggest there are two possible approaches.
1. We may think it best to avoid getting into historical argument, in which case we may simply refer the questioners to books which address the issues. For example, Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ presents in an easy-to-read form the views of eminent christian scholars on many aspects of the historical evidence.
2. However some non-believers will not accept this evidence. They say, quite correctly, that these scholars are presenting a christian view that is not necessarily accepted by the majority of Biblical scholars. (Ironically, some of them may then present the views of sceptical scholars who are often even further from the consensus of historians.)
If we want to appeal to these non-believers, we will need to meet them halfway, and look at what neutral, secular scholars say about Jesus and the Gospels. When we do, once we get used to the fact that they treat the Bible like any other historical document, we find that there is much that supports the christian’s trust in the Gospels and in Jesus.
For example, we find that the Gospels are regarded by most scholars as good historical sources, for a whole range of reasons (see The Gospels as History) and that even non-believing scholars conclude that the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels is, broadly speaking, authentic. There is even some archaeological evidence to support these conclusions (see Archaeology and the truth of the Gospels).
We don’t have to be afraid of these questions, nor of secular historians, even if we don’t accept all their assumptions. But becoming familiar with the issues will require some reading and careful thinking.