- Jeremy Whiteley
Was Jesus a real person?
Was Jesus a real person?
Everyone is currently preparing for Christmas. For many that will include Christmas nativities and plays at schools and churches. The familiar story of Jesus birth in Bethlehem with angels, sheep and shepherds. Yet according to a Church of England survey a few years ago, 40% of adults in England don’t believe that Jesus was a real person.
I guess that reflects what the nativity play is for many. A chance to watch the kids perform. All part of the Christmas traditions. Enjoying the time of year, getting into the Christmas spirit. But in terms of real-life, no different to Santa Claus. And after Christmas, everything moves on.
So, what do we make of Jesus, the very centre of the Christmas story? The four Gospel writers tell us their accounts of Jesus, his life and his death. We read some of their accounts every year at Christmas time. Is Jesus just some sort of myth? Are the accounts we read just folklore? According to the Church of England survey many people obviously think so. But that flies in the face of all the evidence. Even if we discount all the Bible writers and their accounts of what they saw of Jesus, there are Roman and Jewish writers from the period who mentioned Jesus. Among scholars of the New Testament, there is very little disagreement that Jesus lived.
Archaeologists have been able to corroborate many of the elements of the New Testament story of Jesus. Even so, its perhaps easy to dismiss the Bible writers as biased, and not listen to what they have to say. But others wrote from entirely different motives, mentioning Jesus’ life, his death, and his followers in their writings. Within a few decades of Jesus lifetime, both Jewish and Roman historians mentioned him. For example, In AD 116, the Roman senator and historian Tacitus mentions that the emperor Nero falsely blamed “the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.”
Even if there were no Bible writers and no Christian accounts, then from non-Christian writers living in the first century we would still know:
Jesus was indeed a real person.
Jesus was put to death in Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate (and therefore between AD26 to AD36).
Jesus had a brother called James, who was arrested and persecuted by one of the Jewish high priests.
The “disease” (as they describe Christianity!) named after Christ started in Judea.
That there were a “vast number” of Christians through the Roman Empire within a few decades of Jesus death, regularly meeting to worship Jesus as their God.
Is Jesus is just a myth and a story to bring out each Christmas? Is He just on par with Santa, a man who perhaps did once live, but with no resemblance to the modern interpretation? Anyone with a willingness to look at the evidence must accept that the Jesus we celebrate is an undeniable figure of history.
But is that all?
The Bible writers are at pains to tell us that they wrote their four Gospels as eyewitnesses of Jesus. They tell us that they were there, they saw, they touched, they were there in the events they recorded. And what they recorded leaves us in no doubt that Jesus was no ordinary man! But they tell us so much more – they tell us why Jesus came, why he died, and what that can mean for us 2,000 years later.
In a world that seems increasingly hopeless, they claim Jesus brings real hope. In a world increasingly uncertain and scary, they claim that Jesus can bring real peace and confidence. They claim that Jesus is alive now, that He can transform our lives if we trust what He did at the cross when He died for our sins. Millions of people across the world tell of what Jesus has done in their lives having trusted in Him.
So, this year, as we watch a nativity play, or listen to the lessons and carols at a carol service, maybe we need to pause and remember that these things really happened. And more than that, to reflect on the claims of the Bible writers. Jesus came into the world. God became a man. Surely that’s worth finding out more and investigating what it can mean for you?