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The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the primary historical record of Jesus of Nazareth, His life, death and resurrection. Matthew and John traveled with Jesus during the three years of His public ministry. Mark and Luke traveled with His apostles.
The apostles’ testimony of Christ’s incarnate life, death and resurrection was written down during their life-times. Later non-Christian writings are consistent with Christian accounts. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian who worked for Rome and certainly no friend of Christians, referred in his book, Antiquities of the Jews, 93 AD, to a miracle-worker who seemed to be something more than a man. The Roman historian Tacitus, in his Annals, about 116 AD, describes Nero’s persecution of Christians, who get their name from one called Christ, crucified by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Suetonius, writing about the same time as Tacitus, says that Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because, under the influence of Chrestus, they had become a permanent source of disorder. Pliny the Younger, then governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, wrote to Emperor Trajan in 112 AD, asking how to deal with the Christians in his province, who had become so nu-merous that the temples of the gods were deserted.
No other event in recorded history two thousand years ago was written down so close to its own time, when memories were still fresh and everyone knew what had occurred. Herodotus and Thucydides among the Greeks, and Pliny, Caesar and Livy among the Romans wrote of events that took place much farther back in time. No one can consistently disbelieve the Gospel accounts without also disbelieving the secular recorded history from that era. By accepted standards of historical evidence, the Gospel accounts are of the highest reliability.
The Gospels testify that Christ’s public ministry was filled with miracles that could not be written off as psychological suggestion. The man born blind Jn 9 could not have been healed by mere suggestion. Nor could Lazarus, Jn 11 already four days in the tomb and starting to decompose. Jesus Mk 6 multiplied loaves and fishes to feed five thousand people. Above all, He rose from the dead. Paul acknowledged 1 Cor 15 that His resurrection was the final proof that He is the Messiah.
The apostles themselves were not ready to accept the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Gospels show that they were unwilling to believe until they saw Him face to face. They thought they were seeing a ghost. Even after He showed them His hands and feet they still did not believe. Finally, Lk 24:42 “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it before them.” After that, they proclaimed the risen Christ at the cost of their lives. By tradition, Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded, both in Rome in 66 AD. Andrew was martyred in 70 AD bound to a cross. Bartholomew was flayed alive in 44 AD. James the Greater (Zebedee’s son) was beheaded in Jerusalem. James the Less (Alphaeus’ son) was stoned to death. Thomas was martyred in south India. Jude and Simon the Cananaean were shot to death with arrows in Persia. John was boiled in oil but miraculously survived; he was exiled to Patmos but finally died of old age in Ephesus.
Four Gospels affirm the Resurrection. No eyewitness testimony contradicts them. By the rules of evidence we apply in every other venue the Gospels are authoritative history. Every museum in the world exhibits artifacts supported by far less.
Academic skeptics who try to contradict the Gospel al imagine a man who thinks as they do, build towers of scholarly Babel around him, and call him “the historical Jesus.” The clue is: “thinks as they do.” They always propose a Jesus whose views are consistent with their own, and with the liberal perspective that reigns in the groves of academe.
Jews often acknowledge that they have little historical evidence against Jesus, only evidence that He did not fit into any Torah category. They are right that He did not fit into any Torah category, since the Torah was God’s law for man. But they say that we should have a higher standard of evidence for the Gospels than for anything else, since a visit by the Messiah would be of supreme importance. Then they assert what formal logic calls the fallacy of the unfalsifiable proposition. No matter what evidence we show for the authenticity of the Gospel accounts, they simply say that more is required. It is the same fallacy, by the way, that some liberal Jews assert against Pope Pius XII. No matter how often Pius XII publicly spoke out against the Holocaust, it could always be argued that he should have done more.
However, they do not apply the same standard to their understanding of the Torah, which they consider of supreme importance. Consider the Shma. Deut 6:4 in Hebrew is: Shma Israel, Adonai, Eloheynu, Adonai ekhad. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one [ekhad] LORD.” Adonai, often translated “LORD,” is plural, “my Lords.” Eloheynu, often translated “God,” is also plural, “our Gods.” A literal translation of the Shma would be, “… my Lords our Gods my Lords one.” Three mentions of God. A perfect representation of the Blessed Trinity. The second mention of God, moreover, is Eloheynu, “our Gods,” not Elohai, “my Gods,” suggesting the Second Person, who would open the Torah to the whole world. “One” reminds us that God is one Blessed Trinity. This is a method of exegesis similar to one of the standard principles of exegesis that Jews use to understand the Torah, but the rabbis deny that the Shma is Trinitarian. Their arguments represent fair exegesis, but do not represent the super-evidence that they ask of the Gospels.
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