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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why I believe in Jesus Christ and the religion he founded

This post was inspired by some comments from one of my readers regarding the origins of Christianity. Many folks have alleged that the roots of the Christian religion can be traced to pagan mythology (see The Pagan Origins of Jesus Christ and Christianity at http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/biblianazar/esp_biblianazar_33.htm). Some individuals have even asserted that Jesus Christ is a fictitious character that was created by a few imaginative individuals who sought to make their new religion more appealing to the heathen masses by reworking some of the old stories associated with their gods. Nevertheless, this blogger finds abundant evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ was a real personage who founded a unique religion based on the reconciliation of an estranged humanity to THE GOD through himself.

Although there are two references to Jesus in the writings of the Jewish Historian Josephus, critics have alleged that the original manuscripts have been embellished by later Christian writers (which I think has some merit in the case of one of those references). As a consequence of this tampering, we will ignore these specific references as direct evidence of Christ's existence. Nevertheless, Josephus and other period historians do corroborate key elements of the New Testament story. For instance, no one disputes the existence of the Jews, Romans, Herod, his family, Pilate, Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Judea, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Galilee, Nazareth, synagogues, Temple, etc. In similar fashion, no one disputes that scrolls of the Torah were kept in synagogues (and that they were read on the Sabbath), the Romans commonly employed crucifixion as a means of capital punishment, the Jews commonly used tombs hewn out of stone, marriage festivals were an important tradition within Jewish communities of the time, the High Priest and Sanhedrin were the most important elements of authority within the Jewish community, etc.

In addition to these facts, most biblical scholars agree that many of the epistles of the New Testament were composed prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (70 A.D.) In fact, most of those same scholars say that some of these epistles were written before the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). For instance, there is general agreement that Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians and I & II Thessalonians were all written prior to 60 A.D. This would mean that all of these letters were composed before the earliest Gospel (Mark). For our purposes, suffice it to say that there is some sound reasoning and outstanding scholarship behind dating these writings within these ranges. I encourage my readers to check out the notations in their own study bibles or peruse some of the fine commentaries that are available for that purpose. For those who would characterize textual criticism as highly speculative, I would say that attributing biblical stories to myths about Isis, Osiris and Horus (or Simon Magus) makes the biblical textual work look like scientific and historical fact (to demonstrate my point, I encourage my readers to check out the Egyptian story about these characters at http://www.egyptianmyths.net/mythisis.htm - does that sound like the Bible to you?).

Anyway, my point in mentioning the dating of these epistles is that they corroborate key elements of the Gospel accounts. Paul opens his letter to the saints at Rome by saying that the prophets had foretold the coming of Jesus Christ, that he was a descendant of David and was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (Romans 1:2-4) He tells the Corinthians that Christ was crucified. (I Corinthians 2:2) He also gives them an account of Christ's "Last Supper" with his disciples. (I Corinthians 11:23-26) Paul also made several references to the cross of Christ in these letters. (e.g. I Corinthians 1:17-18, Galatians 6:12, 14) He also talks about Peter, one of the original apostles. (Galatians 2) There are also numerous references to Christ's promise to someday resurrect his followers and return to this earth. (I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 3:13, 5:23 and 4:13-17)

To be fair, there are some scholars who dispute the fact that Paul wrote all of the letters attributed to him in the New Testament. I'd say that people who say such things are not paying much attention to what the author himself reveals about how the letters were written! In most instances, we are informed within the letter that someone else actually wrote the letter, or that it was co-authored with at least one other person. (e.g. Romans 16:22, I Corinthians 16:21, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 4:18 and I Thessalonians 1:1) Hence, it is understandable that there would be differences in style, vocabulary and phraseology among the letters. Even so, there are few people who dispute that Paul wrote the letters mentioned above in connection with the Gospel accounts.

In addition to the internal evidence provided by the writings of the New Testament, there is the writings of the early "Church Fathers" to consider. Clement of Rome wrote about the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, the resurrection of the dead, quotes the book of Hebrews, offices within the church and the practice of brotherly love among believers. Ignatius of Antioch talks about the virgin birth of Christ, church governance, guarding against false teachers, the martyrdom of Paul and quotes extensively from Scripture. Polycarp wrote about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, uses quotations from the Gospels and letters of Peter and Paul, church governance and mentions Ignatius of Antioch. The Didache (about 100 A.D.) talks about baptism, recites the Lord's prayer, discusses the communion service, talks about the offices within the church and enjoins its readers to be watchful for the second coming of the Lord.

Finally, I would add to all of this documentary evidence the evidence of my own experiences as a Christian. Although this evidence cannot be characterized as objective, impartial or scientific, it is meaningful to me (and perhaps it will be to some of my readers). I have felt the redeeming grace of Christ at work in my own life. I have felt the pull, leadership and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I have experienced the peace that comes through Christ, and many things that I would characterize as miracles.

For all of these reasons and more, I believe that Jesus Christ was an extraordinary individual who actually existed and founded a religion that continues to exist up to the time of this writing. I also believe that his teachings demonstrate that he came from THE GOD, and that he is the most perfect representation of that God that mankind has ever seen.

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