Did the stories written about Jesus really happen or are they just made up? We confront this big question with one of the world's leading experts in the field. A riveting conversation even for those who find history boring.
Our guest: Professor Craig Evans. Craig is the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Theological Seminary in the United States. He is a New Testament scholar, a prolific author, and popular speaker. He is well-known for his contribution to work on the Gospels, the Historical Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeology of the New Testament.
This is part 2 of a two part conversation.
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Bigger Questions asked in the conversation
The message of the historical Jesus is summarised in the book of Acts. Where in a speech, the Apostle Peter says in Acts 2:22-24:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
This passage summarises many of the issues connected to the historical Jesus. His existence, his miracles and his death and resurrection. Yet today it seems popular to claim Jesus was just a legend and never really existed as a real historical person. So was this Jesus of Nazareth a real historical person?
Why isn’t there more written about Jesus outside of the Bible?
This passage then points to Jesus doing miracles. Peter claims he did ‘miracles, wonders and signs’. Weren’t there other ancient miracle workers - people like Apollonius of Tyana? So how do the miracle accounts of Jesus compare to other miracle workers of the Ancient World?
Jesus’ death and resurrection
This passage from Acts speaks of Jesus’ death: ‘by nailing him to the cross’. How does the archaeological evidence for Jesus’ death stack up? Some have claimed that the death, removal from the cross and burial of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels inaccurately portrays what would have likely occurred at crucifixions in Ancient Palestine and under the Jewish law?
The Gospel accounts describing Jesus’ removal from the cross and burial are consistent with archaeological evidence and with Jewish Law.
This passage also mentioned Jesus’ resurrection? This is the most significant historical event in the Christian faith. But is this just a faith statement or are there reasons to believe that this is an historically accurate claim?
More you’ve read and learned, has that made you more or less confident in the historical accuracy of the Gospels and the historical basis for the Christian faith?
The final verse there says,
But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him
What is the significance of this?
What difference has that made to your life?
The Big Question
So Dr. Evans, How historically accurate are the Gospels?
This is the problem with debating Christians who believe they can sense the presence of the resurrected Jesus within them: Regardless of the quantity and quality of the historical evidence that we skeptics present, evangelical Christian apologists will ignore it if it challenges their personal experience of Jesus living within them. In addition, they will ignore any majority scholarly opinion which they perceive contradicts their personal experience of a resurrected Jesus living within them.
Therefore, the majority scholarly opinion that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses nor by the close associates of eyewitnesses is rejected. Since their personal experiences tell them that Jesus did rise from the dead, the Gospel stories must be historically accurate. Their historicity is unquestionable. Bottom line: No amount of historical evidence is going to convince a Christian apologist that Jesus is dead if he perceives the resurrected Jesus living within him.