by Ernest O'Neill

Historical Evidence of Jesus' Life

Program 47

"What is the meaning of life?" That's the question we've been discussing now for several months. You remember that yesterday we said that many of us have discovered an expression of design and order in the very make-up of our human bodies and our minds. Many of us who have studied physics and chemistry have seen also a great design and order in the natural world itself.

We have seen not only that the seasons come and go in a regular pattern, not only that the sun and the stars orbit in an orderly way, but we have also seen that the very substance of the elements that make up the universe have an order to them.

The DNA system of life that we've discovered, the structure of life itself has a beautiful mathematical order in it that reinforces Einstein's comment that there just has to be a personal intellect behind the universe to explain the design that we with our intelligences can discover.

What we have asked is, is there any other evidence that there is such a person behind the universe? We have said that evidence has to come from some appearance, some communication from that being. What we have been saying is that there is such evidence. It doesn't come through a man like Mohammed who is just a human being like the rest of us. It doesn't come through a man like Buddha or through the Hindu myths. It doesn't come through Confucius or Zoroaster who were just men like ourselves and died like dogs and were buried.

They are all people who never got outside this closed world in which we live. But there was a remarkable human being who got onto this bus on which we all find ourselves, this spaceship in which we are hurtling through space. There is a remarkable man who joined this spaceship about 1900 years ago. And He gave us reason to believe that He came from outside the world itself, and that He had contact with the originator of the universe. He had contact with the maker of the universe. He had contact with the great Supreme Being who originally created you and created me.

You may say, "Well, we've heard this kind of story before; it's usually wrapped up in myths." You're right. The Greek and Roman myths are just myths; that's all they were. When Homer talks about Zeus and all the other gods, he is just talking about fairy tales that he or others have made up on the basis of some military history that they were trying to describe at that time. You're right also when you talk about the Hindu myths. They consist of centuries and centuries of mythological stories that cannot be checked up on or corroborated in any way.

You're right also when you talk about Buddha's life, which was written 500 years after he died so that there is no way to tell that what we have there is actual fact, or is simply accretions that have accumulated over the years through the imaginations of other authors. You're right, too, when you talk about Mohammed, who really gave us only information that we had already received through the OLD TESTAMENT.

But when you talk about this other man, you talk about a different kind of being. You talk about a man who was known as Jesus of Nazareth and has been regarded by many of us as just a religious figure. But He is far from that. He is an actual historical figure.

Now you may say, "Well, prove that. All this business about the BIBLE and the chanting and the Psalms and the bishops and the archbishops and all this religious stuff, surely it's all just as old Marx said, that it's opium. It's a drug that keeps the people down, keeps them from rising up against their rulers." No, it isn't.

No, it isn't at all. The BIBLE is not just a book of myths by any means. The BIBLE comes from the Greek words "Ta Biblia". It means "the books". It referred to a group of books that were collected over centuries and centuries. What we are talking about particularly in regard to Jesus is the last quarter of that book which is known as the New Testament. And this consists of historical records of this man's life.

So, if you say, "Well, how can you tell whether Jesus ever lived, how can you tell whether he isn't just a myth?" You can tell by studying history. If you say to me, "Aw, history lies." No, it doesn't. Did Winston Churchill live? Sure he did. How do you know? Some of us were alive who actually saw him. Some of us saw him when he wrote his books.

Is that so with Jesus? Of course it is. When John wrote what is known as the "Gospel of John", there were people that were alive at that time who saw Jesus. All they had to do was say, "Naw, that man wasn't alive. That man never did rise from the dead. That fellow John is just telling lies." That's all they had to do, but they didn't do that.

In spite of the fact that any young man who was alive in 29 A.D. when this Jesus was executed, would only really be about 40 when the Gospel was circulating or when the Epistle to the Galatians was circulating. He did not contradict it. He did not say this didn't happen. There was no great outcry saying that this man did not rise from the dead. In fact, they accepted it.

Moreover, the books that record His life were circulating in the then-known world, so that lots of people were reading them. Lots of people were seeing them. One of them said, "This wasn't done in a corner. There were all kinds of people who knew about this."

So we discovered that not only the BIBLE writers wrote about this man Jesus, but a man like Tacitus, the leading historian of Imperial Rome, wrote this, "The author of that name Christian was Christ, who in the reign of Tiberius suffered punishment under his procurator Pontius Pilate." That's Tacitus. That's not a NEW TESTAMENT writer. That's not a Christian. That's not someone who supported Jesus. That's an ordinary Roman writer that many of us read about in the classics.

A man called Josephus, a Jewish historian, who had no interest in supporting any myth about Jesus wrote this, "There was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake Him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day."

So there are many corroborations of the historical evidence of Jesus' life. Indeed, if you want more of that, you can write to me. I'll give my address at the end of this program and I'll send you a little book where I've tried to summarize some of this evidence. But there is a great deal of evidence to reinforce the historicity of this man Jesus. And so it is easy to establish the fact that this man lived and died as the people in the New Testament said He lived and died.

Now, you may be like me. I believed that, but I had a question about whether what they wrote is what we have in the Bible. That was my question. I wondered, "Well, maybe they wrote it, but maybe they wrote it, you know, 1900 years ago. So, how do we know that what we've got now is what they wrote then.

Of course, in the case of the classics, it's a very reasonable question to ask. All of us believe in Plato's REPUBLIC. We use it as the basis of our philosophy classes at university. Yet the oldest manuscript we have of Plato's REPUBLIC was written 1300 years after Plato wrote the REPUBLIC. Yet, we have no doubt that what we have is what Plato wrote.

What is the situation in the other classical writers? Well, it's no better with Tacitus' history. It's about 1200 or 1300 years later that we have the first manuscript of his history. It's the same with Caesar. It's about 1000 years later. What's the situation with the NEW TESTAMENT? It's amazing! We have a manuscript that is in the university library in Manchester, England, that is dated 130 A.D., barely 30-35 years after John wrote the gospel record of Jesus's life.

Have we any other evidence? Sure. If you go to the British Museum, you'll see the Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Sinaiticus, dated about 350 or 400 A.D., a bare 300 or 400 years after the New Testament was written. Have we any other manuscripts? Certainly. We have about 4,000 different ancient Greek manuscripts that are at least 1000 A.D. Some of them 200, some 400, some 500 A.D. So it is impossible to question the historicity of this man Jesus, because the manuscript evidence that we have for His life is far superior to that of any of the ancient writers or the ancient personalities of that time.

So it is very easy on purely scholarly, intellectual grounds to say that what we have recorded in the NEW TESTAMENT about this remarkable man who got onto this spaceship 1900 years ago, is absolute truth. It is history. You have to reject all of history if you reject that. That's how sure we are that this remarkable human being lived 1900 years ago. Let's talk a little more about Him tomorrow.


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