Alpha Course: Reviewed

by Stephen Butterfield

WEEK 1b: “Who Is Jesus?”

Gumbel begins his presentation by telling us of his youth and how during this time he viewed Christianity as “completely irrelevant to my life”. He confesses to being “really an atheist”. All that was to change, though, after picking up a Bible and reading it. Night after night he read, and it wasn’t long before his scepticism had been replaced with a newfound faith in Jesus Christ. You may be wondering what it was in particular that convinced him. I’ll let Gumbel explain in his own words: “When I got to the end of the New Testament I came to the conclusion: It’s true!”.

Surely there’s more to it than that?

He continues…

Christianity is, he says, “based on evidence. Historical evidence” and proceeds to rhetorically ask, “So what is the evidence? How do we know for example that Jesus even existed? The answer is that there is a great deal of evidence”

He reels off the names of a couple of Roman historians, namely Tacitus and Suetonius, in whose voluminous writings can be found only very brief allusions to Jesus. More of that later.

Gumbel covers ground quickly and assures us of the reliability of the New Testament documents. He concludes the question of a historical Jesus with, “So, we know from evidence outside and inside of the New Testament that he existed, but who was he?”

Do we really know such a thing? I was about to look around the room to see if anyone else thought his conclusion was perhaps just a tad hasty, but then I reminded myself that I was in a room with a group of Christians already convinced of a historical Jesus by faith, so I doubt they were weighing up the argument like I was.

The talk then moves on to the topic of Jesus Christ as God. Gumbel lists a number of “evidences” that support the likelihood of Jesus’ divine nature. A number of Bible verses are presented, a number of his “miracles” are highlighted, then there’s a quick reference to C.S Lewis’s “Lord, Liar or Lunatic” trilemma (as expressed in his book Mere Christianity), before it’s all topped off with the triumphant assertion that the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible are, “The greatest words ever spoken”

The resurrection of Jesus is touched upon briefly, and how “five hundred people at one time” witnessed Christ’s post-resurrection appearance. They can’t all have been hallucinating, claims Gumbel. I’ve often wondered who these five hundred witnesses were [1 Corinthians 15:6]. Can the existence of any of them be verified? Did any of them write a single word about such an episode? If I were to accuse a neighbour of vandalising my property, and I were to tell the police that I had 500 witnesses to the alleged crime, would it be a shock to me if the police were to ask for a few of their names and addresses? Or would the simple fact that I made the claim that there were such an amount of witnesses be enough to convince the police and to convict my neighbour? I wouldn’t have thought so. Would you?

From the resurrection we seamlessly blend into the Christians “relationship” with Jesus. For me this is one of the more fascinating aspects of the Christian claim. “Countless millions throughout the ages have experienced a risen Jesus… Millions of Christians around the world today experience this relationship” states Gumbel.

A brief return to Lewis’s false trilemma is capped off with, “the possibilities of him [Jesus] being evil or deluded – I think we can rule them out as being impossible” and “To say that he [Jesus] was evil or deluded is absurd. It’s illogical”. Is it? It didn’t escape my attention that today’s presentation, though interesting, seemed to be absolutely crammed full of unsupported assertions like these.

The twenty-minute video comes to an end and the pastor ejects the DVD…

“Any questions?” asks the pastor. There is a quiet pause as people look at each other to see who has the guts to speak first. A few nervous giggles follow, but the silence is broken by the pastor who boldly states, “Jesus existed. Historically he was a figure on earth. Whether you’re an atheist, a believer or whatever, that [the fact that Jesus existed] is undeniable. He existed on earth. There is historical evidence.”

Me: “Do you think it is unjustifiable to perhaps doubt that there was a historical Jesus? Is it really that clean-cut?”
Pastor: “The question I would ask you is do you believe that Julius Caesar existed?”
Me: “Yes”
Pastor: “And if you were to say “no” then you would go against a big grain of historical support.”
Me: “True. With Julius Caesar we have accounts of his life from contemporaneous sources from various parts of the globe. We have coins depicting Caesar, which were minted during his lifetime. That’s decent evidence in support of the existence of Julius Caesar. What do we have of Jesus, in terms of supporting evidence, from the time that he lived?”

The pastor puts forward the name Flavius Josephus as a contemporary historian who made mention of Jesus. Josephus was, the pastor claims, “a man who was writing when Julius Caesar was alive”. Sadly there are two problems with the pastor’s claims. 1) Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus; in fact he was not born until nearly 10 years after the alleged death of Jesus. Josephus wrote his “Antiquities” more than 60 years after Jesus’ supposed execution. 2) Julius Caesar died in 44BC. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see the problem with the claim that Josephus was a contemporary of Julius Caesar. I need not expand further on that point.

The pastor then names the two sources offered by Gumbel in his presentation, those being Tacitus and Suetonius, both of whom, I point out, were writing in the 2nd century – therefore not contemporaneous. He then mentions the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (even though the earliest of the Gospels was not written until 40 years after the death of Jesus).

The pastor seems to be drawing a blank on this question. Why could he not offer any historical sources who made mention of Jesus during his alleged lifetime?

He then tries a different tack to explain how and why accounts of Jesus did not appear until decades after his death. As an analogy the pastor gives an example of a 110yr old World War One veteran who was interviewed on TV recently. The pastor says that the veteran is “speaking of things that happened 90 years ago. He’s speaking of his experiences. We all trust most of what he speaks of, though there may be parts what he doesn’t remember clearly”

I think the pastor is missing the point completely here. The conversation continues…

Me: “Yes, but what the veteran says is supported by accounts from the time. We have innumerable, corroborating, contemporaneous accounts of WW1 from every corner of the earth. We don’t just take the word of a WW1 veteran that WW1 was a historical event. Why is it that no one wrote of Jesus during his supposed lifetime?”
Pastor: “The historical evidence that a man called Jesus existed is pretty solid”
Me: “Outside of the Bible we have the likes of Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius, but you’re looking at nearly a one hundred years gap between the supposed Gospel events and the accounts of the Roman historians. If this event [God himself coming to earth in the form of the man Jesus] is supposedly the biggest event in human history then why was everyone at the time silent about it?”

It doesn’t add up. What I’m being led to believe here is that the biggest event in the history of mankind went unnoticed by every single chronicler and historian in the area where it allegedly occurred! Are we supposed to take that seriously? Think about that for a moment.

I’m conscious of the fact that this course is scheduled for eleven weeks, so I’m willing to give the pastor more time to produce the contemporaneous sources. Hopefully as the course progresses we will come to know of an abundance of written evidence about the life of Jesus from people who wrote during his alleged lifetime. But for now we’ll have to wait and see.

The conversation then (conveniently?) drifts into the differences between Christianity and other religions, and how Christianity is a “relationship”. As stated earlier, this has always been something that has puzzled me. Thankfully the pastor assures us we’ll delve more deeply into this in a later session.

At this point the long-standing male member of the church gives us a rather lengthy testimony of how he came to Christ. Beaming with enthusiasm, pride and passion he tells us how one day “something just told me “God exists”. So I pulled out a Gideon Bible and read the Gospel of John. After that I was absolutely hooked!”

One of the ladies asks for a little information about my background. I reveal to her, and the group, that I am a former believer. This raises a few eyebrows, and it is at this time that the pastor highlights the fact that we have overrun the allocated 2hrs for this evening’s session.

The session ends with the pastor saying a prayer. He thanks us all for attending the first of eleven sessions and states that he hopes we have all enjoyed it. I most certainly did.

After the prayer we all nod to each other in appreciation. The pastor gives me a smile, shakes my hand and promises to bring some examples of those “contemporaneous sources that made mention of Jesus” to next weeks session. He is without doubt a likeable, personable chap who displays an admirable attitude. I like him already.

As I fasten up my jacket he says to me, “I want you to test me. I want you to challenge us and to ask questions”. He looks me cheerfully in the eye and states that in regards to Christianity being true, “I am 100% convinced.” To which I reply, with a wink, “I am 100% convinced that you’re 100% convinced”. We laugh, shake hands, wish each other a safe and enjoyable week ahead, and then shuffle off separately into the night.

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September 9, 2008 - Posted by | Alpha Course, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

48 Comments »

  1. This sounds like it’s going to be an interesting journey! I came across your blog searching for ‘Nicky Gumbel’. I was curious to see if anyone was blogging about Alpha Courses, considering that the ‘season’ is about to begin (or in your case has begun!) I was at a meeting for church leaders today and was really struck by Nicky, he’s a really interesting guy. I was just posting about it on my own blog!

    My brother’s an atheist as well and he and I have had some very similar conversations about evidence for the resurrection as you seem to have had with the church pastor about evidence for Jesus (I haven’t come across someone so keen to debate Jesus’ actual existence before though!). I’ve actually come to the conclusion recently that in most conversations it’s normally a dead-end conversation! Not because I don’t think there’s enough evidence, but because in my experience most naturalists/atheists seem to follow Hume (see ‘Of Miracles’) in his argument about evidence for miracles. Basically (very paraphrased!), ‘I can’t take seriously any evidence for miracles, because miracles don’t happen’. So you arrive at a kind of a dead-end with the resurrection for example!

    So I’m curious to see what happens in your conversation with the pastor. It sounds like he’s open to you asking lots of challenging questions, so that’s good! I hope there’s room for conversation about other things as well! 🙂

    Enjoy the course!

    Comment by C Miller | September 11, 2008

  2. C Miller

    I’m not sure you can say that ‘most atheists say that miracles don’t happen..therefore…’ I think they would say they are unlikely to have happened … and we must make sure the evidence is watertight (or really convincing), lest we fall for any old mumbo jumbo. Not saying that Christianity is mumbo jumbo but it at very least needs to jump the same hurdles that ‘King Arthur had a magic sword’ or ‘Muhammad met Gabriel’ or ‘loch ness monster’ does…

    Comment by qmonkey | September 12, 2008

  3. I have a debate on the resurrection at http://resurrectiondebate.blogspot.com/

    Bring on the Gumbel!

    Comment by Steven Carr | September 12, 2008

  4. I see Mr. Miller has a picture of Durham Cathedral on his home page.

    I have just signed up for an Alpha Course at St. Nic’s there.

    Perhaps we will meet?

    I bet I don’t last 2 weeks before I am asked not to come back…

    Comment by Steven Carr | September 12, 2008

  5. Steven – I’m afraid I don’t go to Nic’s, but perhaps I should warn them? 😉

    If you really want to debate the resurrection you should probably go to the experts, because the issues get quite in-depth. You end up examining historical evidence and methodology, the validity of oral evidence etc that most of us aren’t really qualified to debate!

    Gary Habermas is a big apologist for the resurrection. I’ve just recently read Greg Boyd’s book ‘The Jesus Legend’, which I thought was pretty thorough. His premise is, that in order to operate under a truly critical historical method, everything – including our world views and assumptions – must be fair game for debate and deconstruction. It’s interesting stuff.

    Comment by C Miller | September 22, 2008

  6. Habermas didn’t want to debate me, which is fair enough.

    His shtick that the resurrection must have happened because James became the leader of the church is as convincing as similar claims would be if it was claimed that Mormonism must be true, because one of Joseph Smith’s family became head Mormon after Joseph Smith’s death.

    Who are ‘experts’ on resurrections?

    Comment by Steven Carr | September 25, 2008

  7. Interesting discussion so far. I suppose if you are to investigate the claims of Jesus, you need to be convinced that a man named Jesus actually existed! If you don’t get over this hurdle, the rest of the Alpha course will be meaningless. Since we have no videos or photographs of Jesus, we are limited to writings and oral traditions and even if we did have videos or photographs, I’m sure there would be those would dispute those as well. So far the names of 3 historians (Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius have been mentioned. However, I think if we are to follow this line of reasoning it is only fair to ask whether these men even existed? And how can we trust what they recorded was accurate? This line of questioning can go on infinitum. You need to be careful not to cross over into the camp of conspiracy theorist who claim that man never landed on the moon or deny that the Holocaust ever occurred. Otherwise you’ll end up in a mental institution questioning whether or not you exist yourself! Ok, so we he have 3 historians which at least allude to the fact that somebody named Jesus existed. On top of that we have the new testament writers who claim to have documented much of what Jesus said and did. Did other people write about Jesus? I don’t know. They probably did. But because we don’t have any surviving documents doesn’t mean they didn’t. I think it is only fair that you apply your own logic both ways. I accept that Columbus did sail to America, I accept that Hammurabi did exist, I accept that man did land on the moon. Can we accept that it is plausible that a man named Jesus did walk the earth at one time? Even Mr. Carr seems to accept that Jesus existed (how else could he debate the resurrection), otherwise this journey will end before it even begins.

    Comment by Frank W. | October 2, 2008

  8. Neither Tacitus nor Suetonius ever mention the name ‘Jesus’.

    How can I debate the resurrection?

    Well, I can debate what early Christians believed. They believed Jesus was a god, had become a man (at some uncertain point), had become a man empty of all divinity, died, and had become a god again.

    Some other people believed Zeus had become a swan, and had then become Zeus again.

    I can debate when the belief in Zeus becoming a swan first appeared, without committing myself to the belief that Zeus existed.

    Comment by Steven Carr | October 4, 2008

  9. Hello Frank

    Further to what Steven Carr has said in his response to your comments regarding the fact that Tacitus and Suetonius did not actually mention a “Jesus”…

    It is also true that the passage from the third historian from your list, Josephus, is almost universally accepted as a 4th century interpolation (either in part or whole). Therefore we are not being sceptical as to the historicity of Jesus in the face of overwhelming evidence in favour of him being historical, no, we are sceptical because the “evidence” is about as weak as you can get, and spurious in almost every regard. For you to liken such (justified) scepticism to that of conspiracy theories about the Apollo landings or the Holocaust is I’m afraid a mistake on your part.

    You end your comment with, “Can we accept that it is plausible that a man named Jesus did walk the earth at one time?”. Yes, of course we can accept that it is plausible. I don’t think that anyone here is stating that it is implausible. I’ve stated both in my articles and in additional comments that I am not in possession of a belief that there was no historical Jesus.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 4, 2008

  10. Hi Stephen,
    Thank you for your clarification. When I read your original post it sounded like your were doubting the historicity of Jesus/Christ. Yes, Tacitus and Suetonius don’t mention the name Jesus, but they refer to him as Christus. From what I understand your skepticism arises because as you put it “the biggest event in the history of mankind went unnoticed by every single chronicler and historian in the area.” I think it is only fair that we should be skeptical of all presuppositions and conclusions including yours. How do you know that the events went unnoticed by every single chronicler and historians in the area? The problem is we do not have a plethora of writings that have even survived from that era. Even two thirds of the Annals of Tacitus are missing. So there possibly could have been many people who wrote about the events of the time but those documents simply have not survived. If we did have thousands of surviving historical documents from that era and none of them mention Jesus, I think your argument would be valid. But we only have a handful of historical documents from that period, and the ones we do have mention Christus. Only select works were copied and have survived to the present. I’m not saying that I know for a fact that there were many other historical records of Jesus that didn’t survive, however I’m not convinced that there weren’t either. So at this point I’m still open to the fact that there was a historical Jesus and what he said may have been important.
    Thank you for this pleasant discussion,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 6, 2008

  11. Hi Frank,

    In response to some of your comments:

    “When I read your original post it sounded like your were doubting the historicity of Jesus/Christ”
    – I do doubt the historicty of Jesus/Christ.

    “Yes, Tacitus and Suetonius don’t mention the name Jesus, but they refer to him as Christus”
    – Actually Suetonius mentions a “Chrestus”, not Christus.

    How do you know that the events went unnoticed by every single chronicler and historians in the area?”
    – We have absolutely no extra-biblical, contemporaneous sources that make mention of such events. We can only work with what we’ve got.

    ”The problem is we do not have a plethora of writings that have even survived from that era. Even two thirds of the Annals of Tacitus are missing. So there possibly could have been many people who wrote about the events of the time but those documents simply have not survived.”
    – Of course. But we have no trace of any such writings. We have nothing.

    “If we did have thousands of surviving historical documents from that era and none of them mention Jesus, I think your argument would be valid.”
    – All the documents in existence make no mention of Jesus. What more do you want, Frank?

    “But we only have a handful of historical documents from that period, and the ones we do have mention Christus”
    – The documents you speak of are from the 2nd century. Almost 100 years after the supposed events. And one of them refers to a Chrestus, not Christus.

    “So at this point I’m still open to the fact that there was a historical Jesus and what he said may have been important.”
    – I’m open to that too. But, as yet, we have very little to go on.

    ”Thank you for this pleasant discussion”
    – You too, Frank. Your input is greatly appreciated.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 6, 2008

  12. Hi Stephen,
    I think you misunderstood the point I was making. What I was trying to communicate is that we can not prove whether your assertion “the biggest event in the history of mankind went unnoticed by every single chronicler and historian in the area” is true or false. This is because we don’t have many surviving documents from that era to prove or disprove your theory. Also it’s not like there were hundreds of chroniclers recording history back then. There were only a small handful who were employed by the roman government as court secretaries to record imperial records. It’s not unheard of for a government to suppress certain events in history that do not portray them in a good light. Take for example the Japanese government trying to blot out the Nanjing massacre from their history books. I’m not saying your assertion is false, I just don’t think there is enough evidence to come to that conclusion.
    There are still things I don’t understand about the Christian faith like the speaking in tongues bit, but I’m willing to accept that there once was a man who walked the earth named Jesus (or Christ or Christus or Chrestus) and we can not deny that he or his following had a huge impact (good or bad) on mankind. Because of that I think it is worth investigating.
    I look forward to your future posts!
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 7, 2008

  13. Hi Frank,

    “What I was trying to communicate is that we can not prove whether your assertion “the biggest event in the history of mankind went unnoticed by every single chronicler and historian in the area” is true or false. This is because we don’t have many surviving documents from that era to prove or disprove your theory.”
    – Just out of curiosity, Frank, what would be required, according to you, to prove this assertion true >>> “the biggest event in the history of mankind went unnoticed by every single chronicler and historian in the area”

    ??

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 7, 2008

  14. Hi Stephen,
    I suppose I would need the same type of evidence you are asking for. If you could produce evidence that there were hundreds of independent historians writing at the time and 99%-100% of those historians never mention a man named Jesus (Christ, Christus, or Chrestus) then I would doubt that a man ever existed. Or if you could produce copies of an indendent newspaper but it never reported a single story on a man named Jesus (Christ, Christus, or Chrestus) or the so called miracles he peformed then I would doubt that a man ever existed. Is that a fair request?
    I’m just not ready to close the door on the historicity of Jesus based upon a theory that can not be proven.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 7, 2008

  15. Frank, there is 0% mention of Jesus from contemporary secular historians. Yes, 0%. From every available source that we have at our disposal not a single one writes a single word about him. There’s no mention of a Jesus outside of the Bible until the two infamous passages in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews circa 93 AD (and they are almost universally regarded as later interpolations). The “Chrestus” reference (Chrestus was actually a common name amongst slaves) comes from Suetonius’s Lives of the Twelve Caesars circa 120 AD.

    Now, the silence of contemporary sources does not prove that Jesus didn’t exist, but it certainly gives us good grounds for scepticism. Considering the magnitude of the supposed events (God himself coming to earth, raising the dead, walking on water etc) it is even more remarkable that there is no known contemporary record of any of it outside of the Bible.

    All I’m asking is for one account from a contemporaneous, extra-biblical source that makes mention of him. What you’re asking for, though, is for every single piece of work ever written by every single contemporary historian so that you can check for yourself that Jesus isn’t mentioned in any of them!

    You know, and I know, that you’re asking for the impossible. So when you say to me that you’re merely asking for, “the same type of evidence you are asking for” you’re obviously mistaken. Because evidently you arent asking for the same kind of evidence at all. Not even close in fact.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 7, 2008

  16. Hi Stephen,
    Which “contemporary secular historians” are you referring to? I am not aware of the myriad of “available source[s] that we have at our disposal” that you are referring to. Your assertion is based on the assumption that we have the writings of many “contemporary secular historians” and that they all have “0% mention of Jesus”. The problem is you have yet to produce these “contemporary secular historians”. Please give me a list of their names and writings. Yes, I realise that I am asking for the impossible only to point out you are asking for something equally impossible. There may or there may not have been extra-biblical sources that make mention of Jesus. But the fact is whatever did exist has turned to dust by now. So unless we discover some hidden secret library that contains evidenece in either direction, I am equally skeptical of your position as I am of the Christians.
    I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am!
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 7, 2008

  17. “Now, the silence of contemporary sources does not prove that Jesus didn’t exist, but it certainly gives us good grounds for scepticism. Considering the magnitude of the supposed events (God himself coming to earth, raising the dead, walking on water etc) it is even more remarkable that there is no known contemporary record of any of it outside of the Bible.”

    I would like to add, that not only considering the magnitude of the supposed events, we should consider the magnitude of the claims Christianity makes based on these events. We are not only to believe these events true based on evidence which is *at the very best* controversial and severely limited, but we are to base our entire lives on these claims. Claims again which are rooted in these historical events. It is bad enough to believe something historical based on testimony (similar to the WW I veteran analogy in the post), but to believe something which requires MAJOR life affecting decisions is taking it a much bigger step.

    Comment by Jay | October 8, 2008

  18. Hi Frank.

    In response to some of your comments:

    “Which “contemporary secular historians” are you referring to? I am not aware of the myriad of “available source[s] that we have at our disposal” that you are referring to”
    – Two of the most notable names are Philo and Seneca. There’s also Lucius Columella, Apion, Titus Livius, and Pliny the elder. All these people were alive during the alleged lifetime of Jesus. If you research this area you will find many more.

    “Your assertion is based on the assumption that we have the writings of many “contemporary secular historians” and that they all have “0% mention of Jesus”. The problem is you have yet to produce these “contemporary secular historians”. Please give me a list of their names”
    – See above.

    “Yes, I realise that I am asking for the impossible only to point out you are asking for something equally impossible.”
    – I’m asking for contemporaneous support outside of the Bible. What is “impossible” about that, Frank? Please explain.

    “There may or there may not have been extra-biblical sources that make mention of Jesus. But the fact is whatever did exist has turned to dust by now.”
    – I’m not asking for original manuscripts, Frank. What makes you think that I am?

    “So unless we discover some hidden secret library that contains evidence in either direction, I am equally skeptical of your position as I am of the Christians.
    – You’re sceptical of my position AND the Christian position??

    Frank, I must ask you this question before I make further comment:

    According to you, what is MY position other than one of scepticism towards the Christian position?

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 8, 2008

  19. Hi Stephen,
    I have studied some of the names you have mentioned (Philo, Seneca, Pliny). Yes, many of those names you mentioned were writers at the allegeed time of Christ, but they were not historians. For example, Seneca is known for his tragedies and essays, not history. It would be like trying to find mention of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the writings of Stephen King. You aren’t going to find the weather report in the sports section of the newspaper either. Unfortunately, there are scarce amounts of surviving documents of any “contemporary secular historians”.
    I’m not asking for original manuscripts, my point is that many records (original or copies) have been lost. For example, you mention Apion. Are you aware that none of Apion’s works have survived? So we don’t know whether he wrote about Christ or not because we don’t have any of his writings! Which is exactly my point.
    In response to your question:
    “what is MY position other than one of scepticism towards the Christian position?”
    From what I can gather your position is that you question the historicity of Christ because of the lack of extra-biblical writings about Christ.
    I’m not denying that you have a right to that opinion, but I personally don’t think that there is enough evidence to show whether people did or didn’t write about Christ. There just aren’t enough historical writings to make any conclusions either way based on this argument.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 8, 2008

  20. Hi Frank.

    In response to some of your comments:

    “I have studied some of the names you have mentioned (Philo, Seneca, Pliny). Yes, many of those names you mentioned were writers at the alleged time of Christ, but they were not historians. For example, Seneca is known for his tragedies and essays, not history”.
    – You’re obviously thinking of the wrong Seneca. You’re actually referring to Seneca the younger.

    1) Seneca the elder wrote a voluminous history of the Roman Empire. 2) Philo wrote an account of the fate that was to meet the Egyptian prefect, Aulus Flaccus, after he had instigated a massacre of Jews in 38AD. Philo tells us that Flaccus was executed as a result. 3) Pliny the elder authored 31 books on contemporary history, not to mention 20 books on Roman military campaigns in Germany.

    Frank, you’re evidently mistaken to claim that the names listed above did not write history.

    ”From what I can gather your position is that you question the historicity of Christ because of the lack of extra-biblical writings about Christ.”
    – Yes, I question the alleged historicity of Christ. But don’t confuse this with me possessing the belief that Christ did not exist, because if you do then you’d be mistaken. I do think that this is what you’re doing, though.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 8, 2008

  21. Hi Stephen,
    I’m afraid your are making my argument for me.
    Seneca the elder did write a history of the Roman Empire, but it is lost! No surviving copies exist!
    The 31 books by Pliny the elder describe the period from Nero to Vespasian so one would not expect to read about Christ in those books or in the 20 books on the military campaigns in Germany (Christ did not visit Germany).
    I understand that you are not questioning whether Christ did exist (I misuderstood you in an earlier post), you are questioning the historicity of Christ because of the lack of extra-biblical writings about Christ.
    I just don’t think that is a very strong position because of the lack of evidence to support it.
    You run into the same problem with any ancient historical figure. You could question the historicity of Homer or Confucious in the same way but I don’t think you’ll get very far because of the lack of evidence either way.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 9, 2008

  22. Hi Frank:

    Let’s begin with your claim “I’m afraid your are making my argument for me”.
    – Frank, lets take this nice and slowly. You seem to be confusing a number of things and throwing up a few red herrings.

    1 – You claimed that the names I mentioned did not write history. I corrected you. They did write history. So I’m not making your argument for you, I’m showing how your argument is in error.

    2 – My argument was not: “All of their works still exist”. My argument was not that Seneca’s history of Rome ought to have mentioned Jesus. My argument was not that Christ visited Germany (what?). My argument WAS that there existed contemporaneous scholars who wrote history. And, I maintain, we have absolutely no mention of Jesus from anyone during that time.

    3 – Please note. Just because a piece of work may be lost does not mean it is useless to us. We can come to know of many lost manuscripts by referring to later sources who write of them. We have no extant original manuscripts of the New Testament. Yes, we have later copies, but we also have verification from independent sources who refer to, and quote, New Testament manuscripts. However – and here’s my argument in a nutshell – no one quotes any mention of Jesus from any work written by a contemporaneous scholar. I repeat, no one. We have nothing. We have no originals, copies, quotes, or references to Jesus by a contemporary scholar from any later independent sources. Not only that, we have no such record of any of the major Gospel events, despite them being of supposedly earth-shattering significance. No one can seriously believe that the events as written in Matthew 27:52-53 actually happened and no one made any mention of them.

    “I understand that you are not questioning whether Christ did exist (I misunderstood you in an earlier post)”.
    You’re still under a misunderstanding. I do question whether Christ existed as a historical figure.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 9, 2008

  23. Hi Stephen,
    On June 4, 1989 all the major world newspapers were reporting on the crackdown in Tiananmen Square, all except the Chinese news outlets. Obviously we live in the digital age and we have the BBC and CNN to document what really happened. 2000 years later, would we expect to find mention of the Tiananmen massacre in official Chinese documents? What we probably would have were the writings of the protesters who believed their cause was worthy enough to document what really happened. The same can be said for the Nanjing Massacre which the Japanese goverment has already blotted out of their history books and that was less than 100 years ago!
    My argument is in a nutshell is that you can not prove that Jesus or the major Gospel events did not occur because the official historical documents do not make mention of them.
    There just weren’t any independent news sources like the BBC or CNN back then. I would argue that instead what you most likely would have are the writings of the rebels who wanted to document what they saw which Christians believe are the Gospels.
    Thanks,
    Frank
    P.S. The comment about Christ visiting Germany was a joke. Lighten up!

    Comment by Frank W. | October 9, 2008

  24. From the very start of our discussion I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that you completely misunderstand my stance. This is despite the fact that I’ve made my position crystal clear on several occasions. I even asked for your understanding of my position (post #18).

    I have clearly stated that the silence of contemporary scholars does not prove that Jesus did not exist (post #15). I’ll repeat once again, I am not claiming that there was no historical Jesus (post #9).

    So why, then, do you state this in your last post… “My argument is in a nutshell is that you can not prove that Jesus or the major Gospel events did not occur because the official historical documents do not make mention of them”.???

    I never once said that I could prove such a thing.

    There’s your mistake, Frank. My suspicions have been confirmed. You’re arguing against a position that I do not hold.

    That’s why this discussion has gone on for as long as it has.

    So, it’s best if you dispense with the strawmen and red herrings. For now at least.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 9, 2008

  25. Stephen,
    I honestly truly am trying to address your question. So please forgive me if I am misunderstanding your position.
    In your last post you say: “I have clearly stated that the silence of contemporary scholars does not prove that Jesus did not exist (post #15). I’ll repeat once again, I am not claiming that there was no historical Jesus (post #9).”
    But in post #22 you say: “I do question whether Christ existed as a historical figure.” and “No one can seriously believe that the events as written in Matthew 27:52-53 actually happened and no one made any mention of them.”
    So isn’t your position that you “question whether Christ existed as a historical figure” and do not “seriously believe that the events as written in Matthew 27:52-53 actually happened and no one made any mention of them”?
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 9, 2008

  26. Hi Frank,

    Of course I question whether Christ existed as a historical figure”. But how does that equate to me claiming to be able to prove that there was no historical Jesus? It doesn’t.

    As for Matthew 27:52-53, I question those claims too. Considering that they’re 1) fantastical, 2) reliant on supernatural causation, 3) not supported by any source whatsoever outside of the Bible, 4) contrary to every known fact of nature.

    I have good grounds for scepticism when confronted with such claims. But I do not claim to be able to prove that such people/events did not exist/occur. But, for some reason, this was the basis for your argument against me “in a nutshell”. A mistake on your part, obviously.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 9, 2008

  27. Stephen,
    Isn’t the lack of extra-biblical sources a major stumbling block for you to be open to Christianity? If so, I’ve tried hard to give you good reasons and historical precedents of why any mention of Christ could be omitted from any official history books. You can have other reasons to reject Christianity, I just don’t think the lack of extra-biblical sources is a good one.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 10, 2008

  28. Hi Frank,

    In response to some of your comments:

    “Isn’t the lack of extra-biblical sources a major stumbling block for you to be open to Christianity?”
    – It’s a major stumbling block for me with regards to the alleged existence of Christ.

    “I’ve tried hard to give you good reasons and historical precedents of why any mention of Christ could be omitted from any official history books.”
    – Frank, lets go with the scenario that Christ did exist and all record of him was intentionally destroyed by those in power. Wouldn’t the fact that there was no official record of him existing be a good reason for me to be at least sceptical about his existence?? If so then you’re making my argument for me.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 10, 2008

  29. Hi Stephen,
    Yes, you have the right to be sceptical about Christ’s existance but your scepticism is only as strong as someone who is sceptical that the Nanjing Massacre actually happened because no official record of it happened.
    I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sceptical, we should all be sceptical, I just don’t think this particular reason should be a large stumbling block. There are other much larger stumbling blocks on the horizon.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 10, 2008

  30. Hi Frank

    “Yes, you have the right to be sceptical about Christ’s existence but your scepticism is only as strong as someone who is sceptical that the Nanjing Massacre actually happened because no official record of it happened”.
    Absolute nonsense, Frank.

    Your posts are becoming more desperate, and I really don’t know how you’re managing to think these up.

    “No official record” of it having happened? The Japanese may have blotted it out of their history books, but the massacre didn’t happen in Japan, it happened in China. And the Chinese most certainly have record of it.

    Do I have to point out, too, that western journalists were in the Nanjing area at the time? We also have first-hand accounts by Chinese AND Japanese journalists (not to mention the testimonies of thousands of survivors). Also, after the Japanese withdrawal the Chinese authorities recovered 155,000 bodies from shallow graves.

    There is a MOUNTAIN of evidence in support of the Nanking massacre having happened. Yet we have barely a molehill of evidence to support the existence of Christ.

    Let’s face it, Frank, you’ve picked a terrible example. And to be honest I don’t think there’s anywhere left for this particular discussion to go.

    “I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sceptical, we should all be sceptical, I just don’t think this particular reason should be a large stumbling block. There are other much larger stumbling blocks on the horizon”.
    Christ’s alleged existence as a historical figure is a stumbling block, yes, though admittedly it may not be the largest, for there are numerous other stumbling blocks. Hence my atheism.

    It’s been a pleasure speaking to you, Frank. I’ve enjoyed it.

    By the way, the transcript for week 6, “How Does God Guide Us?” is almost complete. With a bit of luck I may get it finished and uploaded slightly earlier than usual. Possibly tomorrow morning.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 10, 2008

  31. Stephen,
    You’re once again you’re pushing my analogy too far. We all know that the Nanjing massacre happened! My reason for bringing it up was to show that governments do try to suppress events that they are not particularly proud of. I’m not at all surprised that the roman records do not mention Christ. Obviously they did not believe who he claimed to be and they aren’t particularly proud that they killed an innocent man. Why would they put in in their history books?
    I too have enjoyed our discussion. I appreciate your gentlemanly responses. I truly do hope you find the answers that you are searching for.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 10, 2008

  32. Frank,

    In the spirit of fairness and as a gentlemanly gesture I’ll count your last comment as you having had the last word in this discussion.

    Thanks for lively and interesting exchange.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 10, 2008

  33. An interesting discussion. One point missed by Stephen was that the earliest surviving copies of the Antiquities do not include the probably interpolated and disputed passage.

    However, perhaps the two of you might like to move on to discuss why the earliest NT writer, St Paul, seemed to have no knowledge whatsoever of a contemporaneous Jesus. Given his miraculous birth, ministry and death Paul’s meagre references to a man born of the flesh, his agony, crucifixion and resurrection do not tie Jesus into any sense of the then present.

    Even when Paul enters into doctrinal disputes with Peter and others there are many references to OT texts but no mention (correct me if I am wrong) to the sayings of Jesus. Indeed, the earliest version of christianity which evolves is that of Paul’s revelation and not that of Peter’s personal knowledge of the man Jesus.

    This I find even stranger than the complete lack of any independent evidence that God came “down” to Earth once and once only where he lived for some 30 years without official remark in some colonial backwater yet with the sole purpose of saving all sinners from an eternal hell. It doesn’t sound a very bright approach to me.

    Comment by Samphire | November 21, 2008

  34. Again, I am posting as I watch the episodes of the 2006 DVD edition of the Alpha Course.

    I was very much looking forward to the topics raised in the “Who is Jesus” talk as I am looking for veracity of the existence of God.

    I happen to think that Jesus existed as a person since I find it very difficult to believe that something that spread so rapidly was based on a made-up person. However, I might be completely mistaken and would have to look at corroborating evidence that S. Butterfield says doesn’t currently exist. A shame.

    As to Frank’s points, I think the default should be skepticism rather than a preference to something that makes people feel good. People prefer to believe in the historicity of Jesus because it satisfies a need they have rather than look at available evidence (for which there appears to be very little).

    I may not understand how the truthfulness of historical accounts are generated, so someone can correct me if I am wrong. Do historians really just look at the number of copies we have of something to indicate if something really happened as Nicky implies with his list of historical works?

    To me this makes no sense. A scenario: over 1 million people worldwide over the past 60 years have made reports of very similar events and can describe these events in great detail. What events? UFO abductions and sightings. Another example: each year millions of children write letters of very similar content to someone they know exists. This person: Santa Claus. If we play the numbers game then Santa and UFO sightings are true. One can imagine thousands of years into the future, our descendants finding records of one of the above scenarios. What might they think? Would they think it actually happened? We need more than numbers.

    I enjoyed the jokes about how having Jesus at a party/picnic would be fun because you never run out of wine or loaves/fish.

    Nicky goes on about the morals of Jesus and makes the implication that things like the golden rule didn’t exist prior to Jesus uttering them. A wikipedia search shows ancient greeks had morals like this. Tying the origin of moral behaviour to Jesus is not doing Nicky any favours in my mind.

    Unfortunately Nicky brings up C.S. Lewis’s three scenarios of insane, devil, or God. Jesus, if he existed, could have simply been mistaken. That doesn’t make him insane. He could have believed that he was different based on a hallucination and then followed that to the best of his ability.

    Another scenario, assuming the existence of Jesus, was that he was someone that saw all the wrongs perpetuated in his society and took on the persona of the messiah (similar to C.S. Lewis’s devil), yet I can easily see the justification in this. Jesus could have simply believed in the ends justify the means: “if I convince people I am the messiah and they follow my teachings, then the world will be a better place.”

    But I am just conjecturing.

    Comment by John | January 20, 2009

  35. I wonder how the Luddites got started.

    Did Ned Ludd exist?

    Comment by Steven Carr | January 20, 2009

  36. John (post #34) said, “Nicky goes on about the morals of Jesus and makes the implication that things like the golden rule didn’t exist prior to Jesus uttering them”

    Lev 19:18b (“love your neighbor as yourself”) was part of the old testament last time I checked :p

    Comment by steve | March 4, 2009

  37. He [Nicky Gumbel] confesses to being “really an atheist”.

    Some one who says they were “really an atheist”, was never an atheist, but simply wasn’t actively religious. The false claim to have been an atheist is a standard Christian rhetorical move.

    Comment by Knockgoats | October 6, 2009

  38. For some interesting commentary on textual analysis of Biblical material, consult Bart Ehrmann’s “Misquoting Jesus.” In it he points out that either through error — many of the scribes who copied early texts by hand were in fact illiterate and could not read what they were writing — or intentionally — either to improve the phrasing, put into a more understandable metaphor, or to suppress or advance some particular point of view — the reliability of even the earliest “source” documents is dubious.

    Comment by Bob Az | October 7, 2009

  39. If only I had a dollar for each time I came here… Superb read!

    Comment by Florence Cunningham | May 28, 2010

  40. I have just started doing an Alpha course, and just finished this particular topic. I can’t understand how the evidence Nicky Gumbel provides in the video, would be good enough to convince an atheist, or a law student, such as he was. Or even anyone else at all.

    So it must be something other than the evidence that converts people. Even though in my Alpha group, I was the only person who saw anything wrong with the evidence. I don’t know if the people in my group even understood my objections.

    I got shouted at with statements like “It must be true because they chose to write about him, they didn’t write about Joe Bloggs down the street, they wrote about him so it must be true.”

    Comment by Jamie | August 18, 2010

  41. Hi Stephen,

    I was just reading some of your blog to find out about the Alpha Course. I’m sorry that you had such an ignorant bunch of people trying to tell you about God and Jesus.

    Although I haven’t read all of your blog, and although I am a Christian, I can’t help but notice the GLARING ignorance of the pastor leading your group.

    I cannot fathom someone being a pastor, and not knowing anything about heaven. The bible states very clearly what heaven will be like. It says that God will create a new heaven (Heaven can refer to different things in the bible. In this case it is referring to the sky.) and a NEW EARTH, and that those who are saved will live on the new earth in glorified (indestructible) bodies. It says that the city of God will be the gathering place, and that God will actually live among his people. There will evidently be animals there too! Being in heaven as a disconnected spirit floating around, is a Victorian construct that has nothing to do with what the bible actually says.

    Wow. I can’t believe it. This guy must not have spent much time actually reading the bible! Even if one does not believe the bible, they should still know what God actually says before making up their minds.

    Comment by Firefly | September 2, 2010

  42. Hi Stephen,

    In know this thread is OLD, but I find it fascinating…

    To jump back briefly to the question of contemporaneous historical references to the life, death and resurrection of Christ, it seems to me less an issue of a potential “cover-up” of the details as much as it was a simple case of being a non-story for historians until the Christian movement was large enough to warrant attention. What, after all, is worth writing about regarding a local religious leader getting executed? The Christian claim that the death and resurrection of Christ was the pivot point of human history was (and remains) an exclusively Christian claim. Why should secular contemporary historians have paid it any attention? I suspect it was after the Christian movement got underway that the historians we’ve been talking about found it worth spilling a little ink to explore.
    All this to say, I agree that Gumbel’s argument is unfortunate as the silence of contemporary historians can neither confirm nor, in my opinion, completely deny the Christ of the gospels. Instead, I might shift the argument to ask why, in the early days of the Christian movement, so many people converted to the faith. A fervent, if not gullible, desire to believe? Or was there something else at work?

    Comment by Jaron | October 11, 2012

  43. Hi Jaron,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ll offer my responses below:

    “The Christian claim that the death and resurrection of Christ was the pivot point of human history was (and remains) an exclusively Christian claim. Why should secular contemporary historians have paid it any attention?”
    If Jesus was just an everyday, run-of-the-mill local religious figure who was put to death without much fanfare, then we wouldn’t expect him to be the object of much attention from contemporaneous historians. But this certainly isn’t the Jesus that is portrayed in the Gospels. God himself in human form, no less. No contemporary historian seemed to be aware, though, that God was in their midst performing his extraordinary miracles. No historian made mention of King Herod’s alleged massacre of the innocents (Matthew 2). The resurrection of the saints (Matthew 27) also unnoticed by every single chronicler in the region. Jesus’ resurrection also completely unnoticed. Not so much as a passing mention by any of them. Such a silence is not hard to explain if Jesus was just an everyday, run-of-the-mill local religious figure.

    “… it seems to me … it [the resurrection] was a simple case of being a non-story for historians until the Christian movement was large enough to warrant attention.”
    I agree.

    “What, after all, is worth writing about regarding a local religious leader getting executed?”
    If he was nothing more than a local religious leader who got himself executed then there would be little worth writing about. But, as already stated, this certainly isn’t the Jesus that is portrayed in the Gospels.

    “… the silence of contemporary historians can neither confirm nor, in my opinion, completely deny the Christ of the gospels.”
    I agree.

    “Instead, I might shift the argument to ask why, in the early days of the Christian movement, so many people converted to the faith. A fervent, if not gullible, desire to believe? Or was there something else at work?”
    In similar vein, one might shift the argument to ask why, in the early days of the Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh movement, so many people converted to the faith. A fervent, if not gullible, desire to believe? Or was there something else at work?

    I don’t see there being a problem in offering the same (or a very similar) explanation for all of them.

    Thanks Jaron.

    All the best,

    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 12, 2012

  44. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus
    Just to argue that there was such a historical person. It seems to have been accepted even by non Christian scholars and I would rather let those academics do the arguing on what proof is needed to state that a person existed.

    Comment by Justin | October 22, 2013

  45. Hi Justin,

    I happen to agree with the general consensus that there existed a 1st century itinerant preacher named Jesus who was put to death under Pontius Pilate. This is not to say, though, that it is also the general consensus that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was God, that he performed miracles, and that he rose from the dead and flew up to heaven. It isn’t.

    All the best.

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 22, 2013

  46. Thank you for your blog, I enjoyed reading through your experience and the comment discussions as well. I’m reminded that in the Gospels of Christ, Jesus is recorded as deflecting mass followings and hiding very important facts about his life that would have overcome some of the difficulties the religious and political elites had with his claims. In John as he is talking with his disciples, he blesses those who have not seen him and yet believe. In the end it is a community of faith. Besides, as the discussion on your blog proves there are actually very few conclusion that are not arguable accept the simple ones: 1) stand in front of a moving buss on the streets of London or Hong Kong or Sri Lanka and your likely to expire. 2) My body needs functioning organs, food, air and water in order to live, but I need love and meaning in order to experience a life worth living. Not knowing why one exist really sucks and leads one towards lostness and self destruction.
    I’ve lived in many different countries and experienced living among many different religious groups. Humanity by any religion (Islam, Buddhist, Atheism, Humanism, Environmentalism, Christianity, Shamanism, etc.) ultimately responds to some deep nature of violence, passion, fear, loyalty, procreation, hatred, power and control (not trying to be exhaustive). Yet, in every soul (invisible and unprovable) there is a sense there must be something more than the slavery of self and our experience of this life as it is. Isn’t it interesting there is a place in every functional human where we have freedom in our invisible mental capacity and internal will despite the facts of our physical existence (slave, poor, royalty, etc.). It’s also interesting that those things that make life worth living are the invisible qualities of life like love, purpose, meaning and destiny. None of these can be proven yet they are true. (I’m sure someone will argue this point – pointlessly)
    My wife and I were on an airplane with a group of future parents and a young Chinese English translator as we traveled from Beijing to Guangzhou to adopt our Chinese children. (Almost all the parents were professing Christians – isn’t that interesting) She asked me how I could actually believe Christianity and the claims of Jesus when evolution was obviously a proven truth. Of course there are many objections I could have made to the idea that evolution is a proven truth. For instance, where is the historical record revealing the mystery of the sudden existence of life out of nothing. Or, where is the historical record of all those ill fated half evolved mutants who didn’t quite have the aquatic and air breathing equipment finely tuned in just the right way. Anyway, I did respond by asking if she was an only child, of course she was almost certainly an only child because China has a one child policy. I asked her “what difference the loss of your life would make should our plane crash?” I asked her, “if you are one of over a billion Chinese, how was she unique or of what value was here existence?” I told her, “If evolution is true, then you are an accident of nature, a fluke.” I asked her where she came from and where she was going? At this point she was crying as I had touched a very sensitive invisible and non-provable self existence issue.
    I then described the joy and satisfaction of a life knowing that God knows me, that he created me, that He loves me and that He has sacrificed someone of infinite value in order to call me “my son.” I know where I came from and I know that ultimately He will bring me home to himself. My life is one of giving life and healing and hope to all those who will hear and believe in Jesus. What a great purpose and reason for living! My God has adopted me, though I am of little value to this world and my wife and I in-tern are adopting one of the hundreds of thousands of unwanted girls in China who are of little value to this world. What a life worth living! I have the great pleasure of passing on God amazing gifts! She sat silently crying for the rest of the trip but from that day till we left she remained by our side with a new found reason to keep her invisible unprovable faith door open to the claims of Jesus Christ.
    Your strength is reason and investigative logic which is why you are approaching this subject the way you do and your very good at it. While reason is a tool of our mental faculties, logic is a tool reasonable people use to help one debunk false arguments and conclusion for the purpose of coming closer to a truth statement. However, some truths ultimately exist outside the reach of this instrument. It has very many limitation as any student of logic will confess, and I must confess I am not a thorough student of logic. Will you really place your eternal existence squarely within the rigid guidelines of a tool with such limitations. Instead, like any tool, why not be open to using some other tools in your quest towards exploring the truth of Christ. Can I prove my wife loves me? I can look at all the pros and cons of this argument I want. I can find fallacies and structural errors as I apply the rules of logic to this proposition but I still can not prove my wife loves me. Yet, my life would be very lonely without her and so I am moved by other physical and invisible qualities towards a relationship with her that I believe and know in my heart is one of love. It’s the same with Christ Jesus! One can be right in his arguments but what has he gained in the end – a lonely life of lost existence and unanswered longings! That is not a life I want to live.
    As to why I believe in Jesus instead of Sun Myung Moon or Allah or Buddha – that’s easy for me. Jesus makes the most sense. Allah is loveless and brutal, Moon is wacko, Buddha says we don’t need to examine our future, we just need to know how to live today. However, I may return as a cow unless I cease to exist entirely as I become one with all things (De-evolution & nihilism). Shamanism is a scary religion and is downright spooky (have you ever walked through an African or Mongolian shaman village). Joseph Smith is obviously counter to the Biblical record with has a very dubious story. The Jewish faith just forgot God’s word repeated three time in Deuteronomy 9:4,5,6 “It’s not because of your righteousness that I am bringing you into the good land.” Yes, Jesus makes perfect sense!

    Comment by David | October 14, 2014

  47. Hi Stephen

    I’ve just come across your blog. I work for a church and we always get loads of church-goers at our alpha courses which is very frustrating. The course is designed for people who don’t believe in christianity but they are always swamped by people who do and often don’t make it past session 1.

    I haven’t read the whole blog yet (I read the blogs after the last session and the first two) but I wanted to tell you about a few things that might have been important in convincing me that Jesus existed. They are ‘musings’ rather than facts:
    1. The year. It is 2017 – 2017 years after the alleged year of Jesus’ birth. He must be fairly important if we identify the year by him.
    2. The number of believers worldwide.
    3. The existence, composition and availability of the bible.

    You have asked why historians didn’t write about Jesus during his lifetime. I don’t think he was important enough to be written about until he allegedly rose from the dead. He was then written about by two eyewitnesses to the resurrection (Matthew & John) and then two disciples with access to eyewitness accounts (Mark & Luke).

    I think the facts have been deliberately left out because of the need for personal choice when it comes to faith. If it’s based on plain facts that are evident to all, it’s not faith – there’s no personal choice. But I believe there is evidence ‘hidden’ in plain sight for us to consider. It’s actually not hidden, it’s more like we are blinded to it.

    Best wishes
    Amanda

    Comment by Amanda Wright | January 2, 2017

  48. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for your post. Nice to hear from you.

    I’m not a mythicist so I don’t hold the view that Jesus didn’t exist at all. However, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to use the kind of arguments for his existence that you seem to find convincing. The existence of the calendar may be persuasive to you but at least 5 of the days of the week on the calendar are named after ancient gods. I doubt that you would find the fact that their names live on in the calendar is a persuasive argument for their existence?

    As for the number of believers in the world, well, that’s neither here-nor-there, surely? There are millions of believers in other gods but, again, I doubt that you would find this in any way persuasive that any of them exist.

    As for your third argument about the existence and availability of the bible, well, that fits in to the same category as the argument above. The same can be said for the existence and availability of other holy books. The fact that they exist is not a convincing argument that their gods exist, surely?

    I have no problem with people having faith. It’s just not for me, that’s all. If I have to believe things on faith, rather than facts, then why would I favour Christianity over any other faith-based position?

    Take care Amanda.

    All the best,

    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | January 4, 2017


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