Arguments for and Against the Historical Jesus, Written by AIGBusted

I am writing this to discuss whether or not the evidence we have (the Bible and other historical documents) shows Jesus was a real person or a myth. To begin with, I want to note that no one piece of the evidence we have seems to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus existed, but when taken together it looks more likely than not that Jesus existed. In this post, I am going to begin with some arguments which I think support a historical Jesus, then move on to bad or feeble arguments for a historical Jesus (This is intended to a series of posts, each looking at different arguments concerning Jesus’ historicity.

Good Arguments for a historical Jesus:

1. In Mark 15 Jesus’ last words are recorded: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”, which is Aramaic for “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Why is this signifigant? Well, you have to remember that Mark was written in Greek even though first century Judeans spoke Aramaic. It would make sense for Jesus’ followers to want to preserve his exact words, untranslated and as he spoke them. Yet it would not make sense to record this if Jesus had been viewed as a cosmic, supernatural figure who never walked the earth.

2. Paul calls Jesus the “first fruits” of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). What Paul seems to be saying (reading the passage in context) is that Jesus was the first of the dead to be resurrected (It was thought that in the end times all the dead would be raised) and that the end times were now. This implies Jesus was a man of flesh and blood and lived recently.

Bad/Feeble Arguments for a Historical Jesus

The argument (or rather, arguments, as this involves many scriptures) we will consider is the argument from the Pauline epistles. This argument contends that

1. The letters of Paul were written in the 50’s (This is not doubted by even non-Christian scholars).

2. Paul Speaks of Jesus as a Historical Person (This is disputable, as we will see, many people misinterpret Paul as speaking literally when, read in context, he speaking figuratively. I know of only two Pauline passages which clearly point to a historical Jesus and I have mentioned them above).

3. No one would invent a figure who lived so recently (less than 20 years prior) in Judea and contended that they knew his siblings and had those who had known him during his life. (I have no truck with this conclusion so long as the premises are sound).

Let’s take a look at the passages John posted in one of his blog posts about the historical Jesus:

Jesus descended from Abraham (Gal. 3:16);

Let’s look at the passage:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.”

We notice right off the bat that the connection between Jesus and Abraham is probably not a literal, flesh and blood relationship, at least in this context: There was something about Jesus which made him a successor to Abraham, something which was beyond DNA (Since the Jewish people were not also considered to be Abraham’s “seed” in the same sense that Jesus was). We also need to pay attention to the metaphor in use here, which I will discuss shortly: In Galatians 4 Paul also discusses how Sarah and Hagar, the wife and concubine of Abraham, should be thought of figuratively and how the Christians are the sons of Sarah, the free woman.

[Jesus] was born of a woman and lived under Jewish law (Gal. 4:4);

Allow to provide a lengthy excerpt from an essay by Rook Hawkins, who explains this passage much more clearly than I am able:

Those out to verify the historical Jesus are quick to jump on this verse without considering what Paul is actually saying here. This verse is taken for granted, presupposed to be about a person which Paul never knew. For Jesus was not born at all but made (genomenon), specifically, under the law. What is the law? Paul actually tells us what “the law” (tou nomou) means. “It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator (mesitou).” (Gal. 3:19) Paul clarifies for us, “For we know that the law (ho nomos) is spiritual (pneumatikos), but I am of the flesh (sarkinos), sold under sin.” (Rom. 7:14) To Paul, what comes from the flesh is corruption and sinful. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Rom. 7:18) The law is the spiritual custodian (ephrouroumetha) of the flesh, a teacher by which Paul feels leads one to life. It is through this custodian, the spirit, per Paul, that we are also saved. There is also an underlining allegory to this passage that most scholars seem to ignore.[28] Do those who want to understand Paul so easily forget the allegory of the two women, Sarah and Hagar, for which we are all a part of?[29] This chapter (Galatians 4) is not about Jesus at all. It is entirely about the law and how to be saved under the law.[30]

“Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, don't you listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the free woman. However, the son by the handmaid was made according to the flesh, but the son by the free woman was made through promise. These things contain an allegory, for these are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that exists now, for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, "Rejoice, you barren who don't bear. Break forth and shout, you that don't travail. For more are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband." Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But as then, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. However what does the Scripture say? "Throw out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid will not inherit with the son of the free woman." So then, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free woman.” – Paul, Galatians 4:21-31

The context is very important. Jesus is made under the law—the spiritual custodian—by a “woman” or specifically, “the Jerusalem above” (hê de anô Ierousalêm), which also happens to allegorically be the mother to everyone. Not everyone in a worldly sense, Paul makes this clear, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16) But Paul was speaking specifically to everyone who is adopted into the death of Jesus Christ, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15) And here the understanding of the parable comes back around. We die, the same way Jesus dies. We call out to our father, allegorically, as we become kin with Jesus through the spirit. But through this death we are saved, from the flesh which is corrupt, through a rebirth. This rebirth is of this allegorical woman in the same way that Paul’s Jesus is born through the same allegorical woman. Indirectly we, like Jesus, are born again spiritually by way of the heavens, or directly, by God.

[Jesus] was the son of David (Romans 1:3);

In order to keep this article’s length to a minimum, I ask you to read the essay linked above as it also has the answer to this passage: It is an allegory intending to portray Jesus as one who treated Jews and Gentiles according to their deeds, just as David did.

[Jesus] had a brother named James (Gal. 1:19) and other brothers (I Cor. 9:5).

Both of these passages use the phrase “brother of the Lord” or “brothers of the Lord” which seems to me to indicate a spiritual relationship rather than a genetic one (Why not simply call James, ‘the brother of Jesus’). I also must note the words of early church father Origen:

"Now this James was he whom that genuine disciple of Jesus, Paul, said he had seen as the Lord’s brother; [Gal. i. 19.] which relation implies not so much nearness of blood, or the sameness of education, as it does the agreement of manners and preaching. If therefore he says the desolation of Jerusalem befell the Jews for the sake of James, with how much greater reason might he have said, that it happened for the sake of Jesus."

Of course, I also need to note that I have discussed this with Dr. James McGrath and he told me that by the third century some Christians believed Mary remained a virgin her whole life and thus they sought to explain away the references to Jesus’ siblings as symbolic. But think about this: Would it make more sense for the perpetual virgin dogma to spring up from a sect which believed (originally, at least) in a spiritual Christ, or would it make more sense to think that one day Christians decided Mary had to be a virgin and so they’d just explain away all the references to her other children? Of course, religious dogmas rarely make sense, so perhaps it is the latter.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:23-25); was betrayed (I Cor. 11;23);

It does not tell us where or when Jesus was killed, and so this does not affect the Jesus myth theory as I present it: Jesus may have appeared to Paul in a vision with a cup of wine and a loaf of bread and instituted the eucharist for all we know.

[He] was killed by the Jews of Judea (I Thess. 2:14-15),

This is very likely an interpolation (See here). Although the link I give is to one of those “conservative Christian” sites, there is a reasonable discussion of why this is thought to be a later addition to the text. In the end, however, I must disagree with the author’s conclusion that we need a text without the offending passage to make up our minds about its authenticity. The earliest manuscripts of Paul’s letters date to well over 100 years after Paul wrote, and we know that scribes made alterations to Biblical texts they copied (See Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman). So there may be a lot of interpolations which we will never be able to prove (using manuscriptural evidence) are interpolations. We are stuck looking for clues within the text.

[H]e was buried and seen as resurrecting (I Cor. 15:4-8).

Again, where and when? In the New Jerusalem or somewhere on earth 20 years ago?

-- AIGBusted