1) “You are speaking with a new friend in the neighborhood. The conversation takes a turn towards religion, and you begin to share your faith and background with your friend. This friend smirks, then states that he doubts that Jesus ever lived. How would you respond to him?”
The truthfulness of the existence of and the life of Jesus Christ is presuppositional to the Christian faith. Christianity is not merely a celestial organization but faith with a historical, personal, and embodied foundation. (Cf. the “Preface” section of this website.) Even if Jesus existed, it still requires faith to accept the truthfulness of his gospel message (e.g., the personhood and miracles he claimed). While some people do not accept that any person would have acted as Jesus did in history, we should not call them “atheists” because they believe that such persons as Jesus did exist. The truthfulness of the Bible (i.e., the Bible as a whole, not one passage or book) is presuppositional to faith. Christians accept the Bible because they believe that it is God’s word. People who reject the Bible and Christianity generally are atheists (and agnostics) (Komoszewski et al., 2006).
Many people today are sceptical of many things, including their own beliefs, their parents’ beliefs, etc., but they will not be criticized for being curious as to whether what they believe is true. When it comes to beliefs about Jesus’ historicity, however, we should not be so tolerant and open-minded. Scepticism toward the idea of Jesus’ existence is evidence of a knowing rejection of the gospel message (Komoszewski et al., 2006). The truthfulness of an event or object may not be absolute, but it still needs to be taken seriously and examined from several different perspectives. When dealing with an issue as serious as whether or not Jesus existed, we should study it from various angles and approach from many points of view. It is essential to question and be objective in our examination, but it is also vital to bring objectivity and seriousness to the issue. When we do this, we realize many different historical perspectives on Jesus and Christianity. For example, some historians believe the Gospels to be fraudulent; but some historiographers say that Jesus did exist. Specific historical perspectives would be considered doubt-worthy: for example, an attempt to deny the existence of Jesus by claiming that he was simply a myth or an elaborate fraud designed to hoodwink people. In contrast, other approaches would be considered more reliable.
It is essential not only to study the evidence from a wide variety of sources (e.g. historical, scientific, philosophical) but also to consider whether or not such sources are reliable. This can be approached with the “test of consequences.” What would happen if Jesus did not exist? There is a wide variety of answers to this question, but they all have profound implications–which should cause us to examine the evidence and arguments more seriously. As important as the question of Jesus’ historicity is, however, his existence is only a part of the truthfulness of the Bible. The honesty of other portions of the Bible–such as its divinity and forgery–is also essential. It is easy to throw up our hands in resignation when we are told that no one knows everything or all things (whether it is historical or not), but this simply does not change our situation. We can still approach with great desire and faith anything we do not understand and trust what we do understand (Komoszewski et al., 2006). The truthfulness of Jesus’ existence does not make Christianity true–it merely confirms its veracity. We should not believe in Jesus simply because he existed; we should accept his existence because God has made it clear to us that he does exist and is who the Bible claims him to be.
2) “In an essay, answer the following question: Why is it important for the Christian to believe in the historicity of Jesus Christ? Or in other words, why is historicity important? The key word in this question is why. Be sure to answer accordingly.”
Historicity is essential because it confirms the truthfulness of the Bible. The gospel message–that Jesus really lived, died for our sins, rose from the grave, and is now in heaven–is foundational to the Christian faith. If Jesus was just a figment of God’s imagination, then we have no reason to trust what the Bible says about him. We should NOT believe that he was merely a myth or an elaborate fraud designed to dupe people. The Gospel message is not simply about the existence of Jesus; it is also about his personhood and his life on earth in history. To be credible, Christianity can only be accepted based on historical evidence. If Jesus did not exist, Christians would have no reason to believe that what is written in the Bible is true. The Christian faith depends on there being a historical Jesus who lived. What we know about Jesus should ensure us the truth of what he said, did, and experienced during his life on earth (e.g., the resurrection of Christ). By understanding that he really lived and died for our sins, we can understand that everything else in the Bible is also authentic and trustworthy.
Historicity helps us understand our sinful condition. If Jesus did not exist, he would not have been able to die for our sins. Without the atoning work of Christ on the cross, we have no hope of being forgiven and reconciled to God. All of us need salvation because we are sinners in need of the grace of God. We all fall short of God’s glory, and shortcoming is part and parcel of being a human being. However, the need for someone to suffer and die on the cross should not surprise us. This is our human condition: we are all sinners who need a saviour. If Jesus did not exist, he would have been no more deserving of our salvation than any other person.
Historicity confirms the identity of Christ. Many people misunderstand who Jesus was and what he was about. For example, some think that Jesus was a good teacher who came to the earth to show people how to live. The problem with this view is that there is no reason to believe that any of Jesus’ instructions or teaching were any different from what we find in other writings of antiquity (e.g., the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Aristotle, Plato, and others). Many great philosophers and teachers today, but I doubt most people would claim these individuals as God-incarnate. If Jesus did not exist in history, then his life would have been like other men who have lived on the earth. The fact that Jesus is identified as God in the Bible forces us to accept him (Komoszewski et al., 2006). In other words, it confirms his identity. If Jesus did not exist in history, then we have no reason to believe that he was God or that anyone else thought so.
Historicity allows us to understand that Jesus is divine. If Jesus did not exist, we would have no reason to believe the extraordinary claims about him in Scripture. The fact that Jesus is identified as God and the Son of God in the Bible confirms both his reality and his deity. Historicity allows us to understand the Bible’s claims about Jesus. We are challenged to examine all of Scripture with an eye toward its historicity, including what it tells us about Jesus. The Gospels tell us that Jesus claimed to be God, performed miracles, and claimed to have risen from the dead. If these claims were invalid, then neither the Gospels nor Jesus has any value. The fact that Jesus was an extraordinary person who did do incredible things in his life makes it difficult for people to doubt the claims made about him in Scripture.
3) “You meet a person on the ski lift at a local ski area, and in making small talk, you mention that you are taking college classes in the Bible. This new acquaintance is not trying to be antagonistic but nevertheless brings up something that he had heard regarding the corruption of the Bible. Upon further inquiry, you discover that this man has taken for granted the argument that the New Testament was corrupted over the centuries through the transmission process and is thus unreliable. How might you answer him?”
We should not take for granted any alleged corruption of the New Testament. For example, it is often assumed that many of the gospel narratives in the New Testament were altered by scribes and church leaders over time. This would have been entirely plausible given the scepticism surrounding the gospels during this period and the politically turbulent times they came out. The fact that they are reliable results from God preserving them; even if some scribe or leader added to what was originally written, then that person would not be able to change everything about Jesus’ life on earth. It would be difficult to add some or all of the details we find in the Gospels. Another way to understand this is to think about a concert film of a performer who was around for several decades, who would have been in his 60s when he died in his 80s. If he wrote or recited everything he said and did while alive into his songs, then as soon as they were recorded, there would not be much change from how it happened. If someone added details to what he said and did during his lifetime, it would be impossible for them to record everything he had done over all these years accurately.
The Gospels are like this. They do not even include everything that took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry, so to think that they could be “remixed” in such a way that would change who Jesus was and what he claimed seems implausible. The eventful journey of Jesus’ life on earth would have been quite tricky for any human to accurately put down in one place and be consistent with other historical records. Of course, there may be some additions in the various gospels that cannot be accounted for, but it is also possible that such incidents may only exist in the gospel accounts, to begin with; or such additions did not get recorded because they were not part of the original account (Komoszewski et al., 2006). If any changes were made to Jesus’ account of his life on earth, then we can still be confident that he was who he claimed to be (i.e., his identity is confirmed by history).
Corruptness does not affect Jesus’ divinity. Some people bring up the corruption of the Gospels as if this meant that Christ was unreliable as God. This is not the case. The fact that there are some historical discrepancies in the Gospels does not make Jesus less divine; instead, it allows us to understand him better. Significantly, we have multiple accounts of Jesus’ life because it shows how much he meant to people and what a revelation he was to everyone who met him. The fact that Christ inspired people to write down his life story suggests that it was a truly extraordinary event. If he were God, then it would be appropriate that we know and remember him for the things he did, and if he were one of many religious teachers then it would not be as important (Komoszewski et al., 2006). The fact that Jesus is identified as God in the Gospels affirms his identity. Historical discrepancies do not affect the truth of Jesus’ message. To the extent that there are historical discrepancies in Jesus’ life as recorded by the gospel writers does not affect its truthfulness to life or its message about who Christ is (e.g., his deity). The facts about him remain unchanged regardless of any other details added or altered later.
Komoszewski, J. E., Sawyer, M. J., & Wallace, D. B. (2006). Reinventing Jesus: How contemporary skeptics miss the real Jesus and mislead popular culture. Kregel Publications.