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Jesus is not Dead! (Part 1 – Jesus’ Crucifixion)

There has been quite a stir lately because of the Apologetic movie God’s Not Dead.  The basic idea behind the movie is that logical arguments can be made that God really does exist.  One critique that I have seen is that while the movie defends the idea of God, Jesus is mysteriously absent.  To be honest, this didn’t bother me too much because the goal of the movie is apologetics: to defend the idea of God, not to share the Gospel of Christ (though there is a little confusion over this in the movie).

However, in two articles I would like to look at a different, and look at it not with the eyes of a theologian, but the eyes of a historian.  The question is: did Jesus really rise from the dead?  This is actually a very important question, because the whole of Christianity rests on this one event.  As no lesser figure than St. Paul wrote:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19 ESV)

There are a few people who argue that there was no person Jesus of Nazareth, which I find historically laughable, and we will move just to evidence that He was crucified and rose from the dead, because if Jesus was crucified, then He clearly lived first.

To this point, we need to first address the most compelling, yet most rejected body of data, and here I mean the New Testament.  With the New Testament, we have 27 ancient documents, all with an extraordinary number of ancient copies or partial copies in existence.  With approximately 5000 Greek manuscripts that contain all or at least part of the New Testament, this is literally a collection of ancient documents without rival.  Any historian would take careful note of a body of ancient sources that are this well attested.

Of course, many people reject the New Testament out of hand because the texts are obviously biased.  However, imagine if you will that you wanted to do historical research on someone else, say Napoleon, and you found a collection of 27 different works that all tell about his exploits, but they are all pro-Napoleon.  Would you automatically reject all of them as specious just because you don’t like what they say?  To reject the best sources because you don’t like them is absurd and could be considered historical malpractice.

Further, if an event as significant as Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is true, wouldn’t you expect the writers who chronicle it to be moved by it?

But, what if the other evidence disagrees with those 27 works?  Then you might have a cause to question them, but what else is there?  Let’s look at some of the other, non-Biblical sources.

A Syrian named Mara BarSerapion wrote in a letter in the first century AD:

What advantage did the Athenian, gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos, gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote around 116 AD in his Annals XXV book 4:

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

The Greek Satirist Lucian wrote his play in The death of Peregrine wrote:

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account

Even the Jewish Talmud remarks how Jesus was crucified.  The Babylonian Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin (43A) refers to His death.

It should be noted that none of these sources were Christians, so you cannot accuse these men of pro-Christian bias.

Historically speaking, Jesus’ death on the cross is well attested to.  There can be no question to an objective observer that Jesus really did die on a Roman cross.  Next we will look at the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, and if He really did rise from the dead, then His death on the cross did win salvation for you.

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