A Note From the Pastor, June 2, 2016

I recently read an article posted at 
 

'Why is Jesus Commander in Chief?' Billboard sparks controversy in Colorado Springs

www.krdo.com

 

A new billboard in Colorado Springs reads, “Welcome Mr. President to Our AF Academy. Why is Jesus Commander in Chief Here?”

 


Then I started reading the comments on the article.  There was a response posted to someone going by “Blue” and the posting asked for specifics.  I am not Blue, but I am posting some information to consider in this conversation.  Thank you to each of you who take the time to read it.  The notes by the poster to “Blue” are in Red, and my responses are in Black.   There are also some additional study resources posted in green.

 

#1 - Blue, show us the proof then. It's that simple, because if you're just going to keep using the bible as "it says so right there", then you need to do more research.


 

(Response – this is very reasonable.  When someone brings up a specific issue, it is important to address it with facts, and not broad generalizations.  Thank you for taking the time to provide material which is worthy of a thoughtful response)   

 

#2 - No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. Not one piece of evidence. Or by any other name from aramaic, semetic, jewish, yiddish, roman, latin or greek.

 

 

 (Response – A Jewish Historian by the name of Josephus documents his existence as does a Roman historian by the name of Tacitus.  If Jesus never existed, they would have both known that and not documented his existence.  Tacitus is later in time, but is still a source from antiquity.   In addition, the New Testament gospels are actually four separate accounts written by four separate authors.  This small collection provides six individual sources that document his existence)

 

 

Here are some additional resources on this topic

Did Jesus Exist? by James Rochford (Part 1: Tacitus)

Did Jesus Exist? by James Rochford (Part 3: Josephus)

 

#3 - The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

 

 

(Response – while skeptics will point out what they perceive to be contradictions, there are often explanations that often go with the perceived contradictions.  These can be addressed one by one.  Thank you for pointing out what you mentioned in item #6 below.  They will be addressed in that item)

 

Here is an additional resource on this topic

Evidence We Want and Evidence We Should Expect: A Look at Paul’s Letters by Eric Chabot

 

#4 - Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

 

 

(Response – in some cases, this is correct, in others it is not.  For example, Matthew experienced some of what he reports.  Mark probably did not provide a majority of first-hand accounts and may have had Peter as a primary source.  Some stories are not first-hand accounts and must have been told to someone, such as accounts of what Mary or Joseph experienced and how they responded. Luke sometimes give first-hand accounts and one of the clues that he is giving first-hand accounts is his use of the word, “we” in describing the participants.)  

 

Here are some additional resources on this topic

 

23 Historical Things We Know for Certain About Jesus by James Bishop

Eyewitnesses to Jesus? New Evidence for the Authenticity of the Gospels by Dr. Peter Williams

Why Should We Trust the Gospels When Eyewitness Testimony Is So Unreliable? by J. Warner Wallace  

 

4 Reasons We Should Accept the Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts by J. Warner Wallace

The Apostles Wrote the Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts by J. Warner Wallace

The Case for the Eyewitness Status of the Gospel Authors by J. Warner Wallace

 

How Ancient Eyewitness Testimony Became the New Testament Gospel Record by J. Warner Wallace

 

 

#5 - The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, and even they contradict each other at every turn.

 

 

(Response – it is much more effective to address specifics rather than generalizations.  However, having said that, there are other historical accounts of Jesus, and to address a supposed contradiction requires stating the supposed contradiction.  There are several places where at first glance there may appear to be a contradiction, but once the issue is understood, the conclusion is that there was not a contradiction.) 

 

Here are some additional resources on this topic

Why Do the Gospel Accounts Contradict Each Other? By Patrick Zukeran

Why Do The Synoptic Gospels Seem To Contradict Each Other? By Richard Bushey

Are There Contradictions in the Gospels? Dr. James M. Arlandson

 

#6 - Each of the Gospels (and for that matter the writings of Paul) present a portrait of Jesus that disagrees with the others on basic facts, starting with the circumstances of his own birth.

When was he born? That’s a trickier question than it should be. Grab a bible and read along.

 

 According to Luke, that would be during the first census of Israel by Quirinius, governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). According to Matthew, that would be during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1). The problem? Quirinius’ census got underway in 6 CE. Herod had been dead for a good decade.

 

 

(Response: Addressing this issue requires some space. I have copied a response to this question below.  It is quoted from: http://www.comereason.org/roman-census.asp  The gospel writers sometimes present different details but that does not mean they contradict. The same is true of witnesses to an event.  One person may have seen details the other person did not see.)

 

Here are some additional resources on this topic

Was Jesus Born On Christmas Day? J. Warner Wallace

Birth Of Jesus by J. Warner Wallace

The Birth of Jesus Christ by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace

Did Luke Mess Up on the Timing of the Christmas Story? by Mikel Del Rosario

Is Luke Wrong About the Time of Jesus' Birth? By Lenny Esposito

Was There Really A Census During the Time of Caesar Augustus? By Ted Wright

 

#7 - The new testament says: Jesus came from a town called Nazareth (numerous references). However, roman papers and other documents have already proved that no town called Nazareth existed until centuries after Jesus' time.

 

(Response – I do not know what papers and documents you are referring to so I cannot respond to this item.)

 

Here are some additional resources on this topic

All four Gospels named Nazareth as the place where Jesus grew up.

(Mark 1:9Matthew 2:23,  Luke 4:16John 1:45)

Did the city of Nazareth exist at the time of the birth of Jesus? by Wintery Knight

Is Jesus’ Hometown (Nazareth) a Myth? by Dr. Joseph M. Holden

 

 

 

#8 - There is no historical evidence for Jesus. Not even 1 contemparaneous account, anywhere. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references - nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death - even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era - there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. 

 

(Response – there are some references to his existence.  One of the references is from Josephus, a Jewish man who wrote in approximately 93 A.D.  I know you exclude him when you are looking for non-Jewish sources, but to present a total picture it is necessary to acknowledge his references.  There is a Roman Historian named Tacitus who documents his existence.  You did pinpoint the first century and he actually was later than the first century, but it is still worth mentioning him to present a complete picture of the evidence for the historical Jesus.)      

 

 Here are some additional resources on this topic

Jesus Christ: Myth or Genuine History? By Wayne Jackson

Did Jesus Exist? by James Rochford (Part 5: Mara Bar-Serapion & the Talmud)

 

 

#9 - There is no historical evidence of an eclipse, earthquake or rending of the veil in the temple supposed to have happened at the moment of Jesus’ death. (See Thallus below)

 

(Response – Just because there is not more than one account does not mean the event did not happen.  Also, it is often the case, when dealing with antiquity, that there is only one witness to an event.  Sometimes the witness is a book, a letter, a discovery from archaeology, but just because there is not an additional source of documentation does not mean an event did not happen.)

 

Here is an additional resource on this topic

Did Jesus Exist? by James Rochford (Part 4: Lucian and Thallus)

 

#10 - And we know for sure the Romans and Greeks were excellent record keepers, we found many of their records. But still, no evidence of Jesus.

 

(Response – While you are correct to the best of my knowledge that the specifics you mention are not documented by any sources we are aware of; the lack of documentation does not mean they did not happen.  It is possible for things that did happen to be documented by only one source.  It is possible for things that did happen to not be documented at all.  Archaeology cannot become the basis for a person’s faith, it can present evidence that it is rational to believe certain things from Scripture.  For example, the Scripture references Pontius Pilate and for many years skeptics argued that he never existed.  Then in 1961, at Caesarea, a stone was discovered that after being dated to the correct time period, was accepted, by non-Christian sources, as additional documentation of the existence of Pontius Pilate.   In this case, the stone is documentation, the Gospel of John is Documentation, and the Gospel of Luke is documentation.  This provides three separate sources.  Luke is very important in the discussion about details.  He was very focused on details.  Therefore, when something he mentions is not documented by other evidence outside of the Scripture, people will often say he is incorrect.  However, the lack of additional evidence does not mean he is incorrect.  Sometimes what is not apparent, becomes apparent later with additional research by archaeologists.)      

 

Here are some additional resources on this topic

Did Jesus Exist? by James Rochford (Part 4: Lucian and Thallus)

Did Jesus Exist? by James Rochford (Part 2: Pliny the Younger and Suetonius)

Jesus Christ: Myth or Genuine History? by Wayne Jackson

 

The Archaeological Evidence for Jesus by Dr. Craig A. Evans

We Can Corroborate the Gospels without Verifying Every Detail by J. Warner Wallace

Why Doesn’t Archaeology Corroborate Every Detail of the New Testament Accounts? By J. Warner Wallace

 

#11 - So when you say to everyone else out here that there is proof, outside of all this, our reply is show us the proof.

 

(Response – this is a very reasonable request.  As Christians, we need to provide additional information to answer the questions that are asked.  Thank you for asking) 

 

#12 - Because so far, every record, archaeological dig, every scientific discovery, which can now be called up at a moment's notice thanks to research and the internet, says No. None of it ever happened. 

 

(Response – this is a very broad assertion.  There are several sources that attest to many of the events in the Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.  I would be incorrect if I said everything in Scripture is attested to by an archaeological discovery, another letter, a scroll, etc., Likewise, a broad statement saying that none of the events in Scripture have additional extra Biblical evidence is incorrect.  Unfortunately, we, Christians, are often our own worst enemies when our lives do not match what we proclaim about Jesus Christ.  Our desire is not to win an intellectual argument, but rather to help people understand who Jesus Christ is, that he came because of God’s Love for people, and that people can be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  For some people, engaging in the intellectual discussion has become a part of the journey that eventually leads to a recognition of who Jesus Christ is.)

 

Additional References to the Historical Jesus:

 

The Gospels as History from Below Part 1 by Dr. Richard Bauckham

The Gospels as History from Below Part 2 by Dr. Richard Bauckham

The Gospels: Fact or Fiction by Dr. Gary Crossland

Unlikely Candidates for Gospel Writers by Lenny Esposito

Do Pre-Jesus Mythical Figures Debunk Christianity? by Brandon D. Smith 

The Myth of the Mythical Jesus by Dr. Philip Jenkins

[https://]Unbelievable? Is There Enough Evidence Beyond the Gospels to Make Their Testimony Reliable by J. Warner Wallace

Authorship of The Gospels by J. Warner Wallace

Why I Know the Gospels Were Written Early by J. Warner Wallace

Refuting the myth that Jesus never existed by Dr. James Hannam

Are Christians Biased? by J. Warner Wallace

Are Christians Inherently Biased? by Zak Schmoll

Since the New Testament writers were biased, can we trust their testimony? by Matt Slick

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible by Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk

The Historicity of the New Testament by Dr. J.P. Moreland

 

Articles

·         Existence of God

·         Different Religions

·         Bible Contradictions

o    Is There More Than One Genesis Account of Creation?

o    Is The Passage In Matthew 19 a Contradiction?

o    Jesus and the Roman Centurion

o    Is Water Baptism Necessary?

o    Is the Bible Against Women?

o    On Mistreating Animals

o    Contradictions in the Gospels Explained

o    Do Rabbits Chew Cud?

o    Does Hebrews 6 contradict eternal security?

o    Do These Bible Verses Show You Can Lose Your Salvation?

o    Did God Tempt David to Sin?

o    What Does The Bible Say About Jesus Being Created?

o    Do the Gospels Mess Up the Genealogy of Jesus?

o    Is the God of the Old Testament Different From the God of the New?

o    Does the Roman Census Prove Luke is Wrong About Jesus' Birth?

o    Bible Contradictions Explained

·         Philosophical Questions

·         Questions About the Bible

·         Society and Culture

·         Science and Faith

 

Is Luke Wrong About the Time of Jesus' Birth?

Hello,

I wonder if you could clarify something that has me puzzled. According to the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great. But Luke also wrote that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for a census by Quirinius while she was still pregnant, and this event has been dated at 6 A.D., or ten years after Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. There have been no historical records to indicate that any Roman census was held prior to 6 A.D.

I've done some research into this apparent discrepancy and have wondered if, perhaps, it was not actually Herod the Great, but one of his heirs apparent that was King at the time of Jesus' birth. But another thing that I discovered in my research is that the well-known historian, Josephus, never documented the slaughter of the innocents, even though he had written quite extensively about Herod the Great. It would seem that Josephus would write something about the mass slaughter of children.

I must be missing some important issue and am sure hoping you can clear this up for me.

Thank you,
Cheryl

 

 

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks so much for writing. This apparent mistake in Luke's timeline has been raised many times over the years as proof of the fallibility of the Biblical accounts. I think upon closer examination, you will find that it really doesn't hold up. It is important to go over all the historic facts we have first so one can understand what is known, what is stated and what is assumed.

 

Listing the Facts

Let's look at the Biblical passage in question and then we'll take it apart to see what specific historical claims are made.

"Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."(NASB)

In the Biblical account, we know these facts are presented:

  • Caesar Augustus ordered a census
  • Quirinius was governing Syria (hegemoneuontos tes Syrias Kyreniou)
  • Each family must register at their familial city of origin

Further, Matthew chapter 2 reports that Herod the Great ordered the slaughter "all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under"(Matt 2:16). We know that Herod died 4-2 B.C., so Jesus birth had to have been before his death - most likely by two or more years. Given these facts, scholars generally date Jesus' birth anywhere between 6 B.C. to 4 B.C.

Now, let's turn our attention to the Josephus passage. In 17.13.5 of The Antiquity of the Jews, Josephus writes:

"So Archelaus' country was laid to the province of Syria; and Cyrenius, one that had been consul, was sent by Caesar to take account of people's effects in Syria, and to sell the house of Archelaus."1

From the Josephus account we derive the following facts:

  • Caesar ordered a census
  • Cyrenius (Quirinius) was sent to account for Syria and sell the house of Archelaus
  • Cyrenius (Quirinius) "had been consul"

We also know from other historical records that Herod Archelaus was deposed in 6 A.D., so this census must be about 6 or 7 A.D. So, the question goes, if Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. and Josephus tells us Quirinius' census wasn't until 6 A.D., then isn't this a contradiction?

 

More than One Census

Although on its face we seem to have a difficulty here, there are several pieces that we must consider before jumping to the conclusion that Luke and Josephus were speaking about the same event. Indeed, it seems that Caesar Augustus was the type of leader who ordered many censuses in his day. Records exist to show that Roman-controlled Egypt had begun a census as early as 10 B.C. and it was repeated every 14 years. And Augustus himself notes in his Res Gestae (The Deeds of Augustus) that he ordered three wide-spread censuses of Roman citizens, one in 28B.C., one in 8 B.C. and one in 14 A.D.2 In between there are several other censuses that happened locally across Rome. Luke's account corroborates the idea of multiple censuses for Judea when he writes "This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria." Certainly, the word "first" implies that more than one census happened.

On another occasion, an enrollment of all the people of the empire happened to swear an oath of allegiance to Caesar. In Chapter 34 of Res Gestae Augustus also notes, "When I administered my thirteenth consulate (2 B.C.E.), the senate and Equestrian order and Roman people all called me father of the country, and voted that the same be inscribed in the vestibule of my temple".3 Josephus also mentions a time "When all good people gave assurance of their good will to Caesar".4 These types of tributes would also require an enrollment of individuals from across the empire. Orosius, a fifth century Christian, links this registration with the birth of Jesus saying that "all of the peoples of the great nations were to take an oath".5

Taking all of this together, we have at least three censuses in the area of Judea - one in 8 B.C., one starting around 2 B.C. and one in 6 A.D. The only point that is really in question, then, is whether Luke was mistaken in ascribing this census to the time when Quirinius was in the role of Syrian Governor. Since Quirinius wasn't governor of the Syrian province until after Archelaus was deposed, critics claim Luke misidentified the census as the smaller one, which happened some 8-10 years after Herod died. Either Luke is wrong on his dating of Jesus' birth or Matthew made up the story of Herod the Great and the killing of the infants. Is this an accurate objection?

 

The Governorship of Quirinius

In studying this problem, there are two main solutions that Christian scholars offer, and each has some good merit. The first point is the terminology Luke uses when writing about Quirinius' governorship over Syria. In stating that Quirinius controlled the Syrian area, Luke doesn't use the official political title of "Governor" ("legatus"), but the broader term "hegemon" which is a ruling officer or procurator. This means that Quirinius may not have been the official governor of Judea, but he was in charge of the census because he was a more capable and trusted servant of Rome than the more inept Saturninus.

Justin Martyr's Apology supports this view, writing that Quirinius was a "procurator", not a governor of the area of Judea.6 As Gleason Archer writes, "In order to secure efficiency and dispatch, it may well have been that Augustus put Quirinius in charge of the census-enrollment in Syria between the close of Saturninus's administration and the beginning of Varus's term of service in 7 B.C. It was doubtless because of his competent handling of the 7 B.C. census that Augustus later put him in charge of the 7 A.D. census."7 Archer also says that Roman history records Quirinius leading the effort to quell rebels in that area at exactly that time, so such a political arrangement is not a stretch.

If Quirinius did hold such a position, then we have no contradiction. The first census was taken during the time of Jesus birth, but Josephus' census would have come later. This option seems to me to be entirely reasonable.

 

Herod's Slaughter of the Babies

Your second question is quite different in its format. You ask why, if Herod committed such an atrocity as killing all the male babies "two years old and under" as Matthew recounts, how could historians such as Josephus completely ignore it? Well, let's think about this for a moment. Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth was a very small city with no more than a few thousand people. The total number of infants who would have been murdered under Herod's edict could be pretty low. As James Patrick Holding writes "How many boys aged two and under could there have been in and around the tiny city of Bethlehem? Five? Ten? Matthew does not give a number. Josephus says that Herod murdered a vast number of people, and was so cruel to those he didn't kill that the living considered the dead to be fortunate. Thus, indirectly, Josephus tells us that there were many atrocities that Herod committed that he does not mention in his histories - and it is probable that authorizing the killing of the presumably few male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem was a minuscule blot of the blackness that was the reign of Herod. Being that the events of the reign of Herod involved practically one atrocity after another - it is observed by one writer, with a minimum of hyperbole, that hardly a day in his 36-year reign passed when someone wasn't sentenced to death - why should any one event in particular have touched off a rebellion, when others in particular, including those recorded by Josephus, did not?"8

I hope these discussions have helped you further your understanding of the difficulties historians face when trying to piece together events from the limited records of the past. There is certainly no slam-dunk evidence that the Biblical accounts are wrong here. In fact, one must also remember that the Biblical accounts are themselves historic documentation and therefore have historic merit in themselves. The fact that we have outside corroboration of the possibility of multiple censuses strengthens Luke's report of the events as he has written them. To say that this is an error would be premature. God bless you as you seek Him.

 

References

2. Res Gestae Divi Avgvsti Chapter 22 (The Deeds of Divine Augustus) translated by Thomas Bushnell, BSG Available online athttp://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html#71

3. Ibid

4. Josephus, op cit p. 453

5. Orosius, Adv. Pag. VI.22.7, VII.2.16 as quoted from "Yet another Eclipse for Herod" by John P. Pratt http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/herod/herod.html

6. Justin Martyr "The First Apology Of Justin" Chapter 34 (accessed online athttp://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html)

7. Archer, Gleason L. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1982 p.366

8. Holding, James Patrick Is the Account of the Slaughter of the Innocents Historical?
Accessed 12/2/05 at 
http://www.tektonics.org/qt/slaughtinn.html

 

Did the city of Nazareth exist at the time of the birth of Jesus? by Wintery Knight

Is Jesus’ Hometown (Nazareth) a Myth? by Joseph M. Holden, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

 

We Can Corroborate the Gospels without Verifying Every Detail by J. Warner Wallace

Why Doesn’t Archaeology Corroborate Every Detail of the New Testament Accounts? By J. Warner Wallace

  

Addition References to the Historical Jesus:

The Gospels as History from Below Part 1 by Dr. Richard Bauckham

The Gospels as History from Below Part 2 by Dr. Richard Bauckham

The Gospels: Fact or Fiction by Dr. Gary Crossland

Unlikely Candidates for Gospel Writers by Lenny Esposito

Do Pre-Jesus Mythical Figures Debunk Christianity? by Brandon D. Smith

Why Should We Trust the Gospels When Eyewitness Testimony Is So Unreliable? by J. Warner Wallace  

 

The Myth of the Mythical Jesus by Dr. Philip Jenkins

Unbelievable? Is There Enough Evidence Beyond the Gospels to Make Their Testimony Reliable by J. Warner Wallace

4 Reasons We Should Accept the Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts by J. Warner Wallace

The Apostles Wrote the Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts by J. Warner Wallace

The Case for the Eyewitness Status of the Gospel Authors by J. Warner Wallace

Authorship of The Gospels by J. Warner Wallace

 

How Ancient Eyewitness Testimony Became the New Testament Gospel Record by J. Warner Wallace

Why I Know the Gospels Were Written Early by J. Warner Wallace

Did Jesus Exist? by James Rochford (Part 5: Mara Bar-Serapion & the Talmud)

Refuting the myth that Jesus never existed by Dr. James Hannam

Are Christians Biased? by J. Warner Wallace

Are Christians Inherently Biased? by Zak Schmoll

Since the New Testament writers were biased, can we trust their testimony? by Matt Slick

Jesus Christ: Myth or Genuine History? by Wayne Jackson

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible by Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk

The Archaeological Evidence for Jesus by Dr. Craig A. Evans

The Historicity of the New Testament by Dr. J.P. Moreland