Is the Jesus of the Bible Just a Legend? – Part 3

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Is the Jesus of the Bible Just a Legend?

We’ve been looking at the question, Is the Jesus we read about in the Bible the real Jesus or is that just a legendary figure?  Some have said that the Gospels weren’t even written until 200 years or more after Jesus lived.  They say that the historical Jesus never claimed to be God and never did any miracles or rise from the dead.  It’s said that the church later embellished the claims and acts of Jesus hundreds of years later, after eyewitnesses who could refute what was written, were gone.

Two weeks ago, however, we looked at the strong evidence that the New Testament documents were indeed written in the first century.  Then last week we looked at the manuscript evidence for the New Testament and saw that it is much stronger than that of any other ancient documents.  That leads me to the conclusion that I can have confidence that what was originally written in the first century has been accurately copied and handed down to us today.

Documents

That being said, it’s still true that the oldest complete New Testament copy only goes back to about AD 330, about 300 years after the reported events.  Is it possible that the message of the New Testament changed between the passing of the last eyewitnesses and the earliest full copy? (Overlooking for the  moment that a large portion of the New Testament exists in copies dating back to AD 250.)

Is it Possible the Message of the New Testament Changed?

Yes, it’s possible.  But then almost anything is possible.  It’s possible that someone broke into my house, stole everything, and replaced everything with exact duplicates.  The question with most things we evaluate in life is really, Is it probable?  There aren’t many things that we can know with 100% certainty.   For the most part we deal in probability.    (No one reading this blog can know for certain that we put a man on the moon.   Some don’t think we did, but considering the evidence, I think the probability is pretty good that we did.)

So is it probable that the message of the New Testament changed?  You can judge for yourself, but I don’t believe so.  It’s not as though there was no one watching over and passing on that message in the years in between.

The Testimony of the Church Fathers

 Jesus’ disciples, who were eyewitnesses of his miracles and resurrection, passed that message on to other disciples who passed the message on to other disciples who passed that message on to other disciples, and so on and so on.

J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective and a former atheist.  He has studied the writings of these early disciples, often known as the Church Fathers, and just as there is a chain of custody in the police department for the evidence in a criminal trial, he has traced multiple chains of custody of the message of the New Testament.  He has traced the message of Jesus from the first century down through  the time of that earliest full copy of the New Testament around AD 330.

For example, the Apostle John passed on his eyewitness testimony to Ignatius and Polycarp. They passed it on to Irenaeus, who passed it on to Hippolytus.  The Apostle Peter passed his eyewitness testimony to Mark.  Mark passed it on to Justus who passed it on to Pantaenus.  He passed it on to Clement who passed it on to Origen.    From him, Pamphilus passed it on to Eusebius and Eusebius wrote around the time of that earliest full copy of the New Testament.

chain of custody

So when we read the writings of these Church Fathers, do they present a view of Jesus that is consistent with what we read in the New Testament?  Yes, they do.  As I mentioned in Part 1, they allude to and quote the New Testament books and they themselves paint the same picture of Jesus from the testimony that was passed on to them.

From their writings we see that Jesus:

  • Jesus was Predicted by the Old Testament as Described in the New Testament
  • Jesus is Divine as Described in the New Testament
  • Jesus Taught His Disciples as Described in the New Testament
  • Jesus Worked Miracles as Described in the New Testament
  • Jesus was Born of a Virgin as Described in the New Testament
  • Jesus Lived, Ministered, Was Crucified and Died as Described in the New Testament
  • Jesus Rose from the Dead and Demonstrated His Deity as Described in the New Testament

So, you decide.  Is the Jesus of the Bible just a legend, or does the evidence show that the Jesus we read about is the same one who was witnessed in the first century and that eyewitness testimony has been faithfully preserved for us today?

Image from Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

 

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Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Claims and Acts of Jesus, Reliable Documents

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