What the Earliest Non-Biblical Authors Say About Jesus (Free Bible Insert)

What would we know about Jesus if we lost every Biblical manuscript on the planet? Could we have any certainty Jesus actually lived, and would we be able to re-capture any of the details of his life or nature? As it turns out, there are several ancient sources of information about Jesus. Some of these are from pagan, non-Christian authors (I’ve written about these sources here at Cold-Case Christianity). But there are even more compelling early non-Biblical accounts we can reference in an effort to understand who Jesus is (and was). We can still read the accounts of those early Christians who learned directly from the Biblical authors. Ignatius and Polycarp were direct students of the Apostle John; Clement was a direct student of the Apostle Paul. These students later became leaders in the early Christian Church and wrote their own letters to local congregations. Seven letters from Ignatius still survive, along with one letter from Polycarp and Clement. These are the earliest non-Biblical accounts we have describing the life and nature of Jesus. They are not in your Bible, but the information provided by these students of the Biblical authors is compelling. It provides us with the earliest snapshot of Jesus, and demonstrates the story of Jesus was not distorted or modified in the centuries between Jesus’ ministry and the first Church Councils. Here is a brief summary of what we can know about Jesus from the earliest Non-Biblical authors:

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Why the Historicity of Jesus Matters

All of us need a little help at one time or another. When times get tough and we need some wise advice, we can turn to our friends, our parents, our mentors or the wise philosophers and thinkers of the past. I’ve known people who have gleaned comfort and wisdom from historic thinkers or writers like Mahatma Ghandi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or even John Lennon. Wise sources from the past seem every bit as reasonable as more current ones, especially when the wisdom of these thinkers has been vetted and embraced by individuals and cultures across the ages. By contrast, few people would consider Barney the Dinosaur or Yoda to be reasonable sources for such wisdom. Why not? After all, Barney and Yoda have actually offered many wise statements, and some of these statements may even apply to whatever hardship you’re experiencing at this time in your life. Given the wise advice offered by Barney and Yoda, why don’t we embrace them as reliable sources of wisdom? You know why: Barney and Yoda are fictional characters. While we may find some truth in the words of such characters, we typically reject them as consistent, reliable sages. So, to which category does Jesus belong? Is he a wise teacher from who we can gain wisdom, or a fictional character we ought to reject?

Some believe Jesus falls in the latter category. Earlier this year, a story broke in Memphis, Tennessee when a teacher rejected Jesus as a reasonable source of wisdom and comfort. 10 year old Erin Shead was attending Lucy Elementary in Memphis. Her teacher assigned a simple project: write about someone you idolize. Erin chose God. “I look up to God,” she wrote. “I love him and Jesus, and Jesus is His earthly son. I also love Jesus.” Erin’s teacher objected to her choice and told her Jesus could not be the subject of her short project. She told Erin to start over again, and allowed her to pick Michael Jackson as the subject of her report. Erin’s mom brought the case before the School Board. The Board eventually agreed with the Shead’s and permitted Erin to write about Jesus. Why would anyone consider Michael Jackson but reject Jesus as a credible source of wisdom and admiration? While it is most likely due to a growing bias against theism in general, it may also be due to disbelief in Jesus as a true person from history.

Over the past ten years or so, a number of popular works have challenged the historicity of Jesus in significant ways. Films like The God Who Wasn’t There and Zeitgeist: The Movie have garnered millions of views on the Internet. Both films challenge the historicity of Jesus and argue Jesus is nothing more than a borrowed mythological character, crafted from prior similar mythologies. Popular writers and authors such as David Fitzgerald, Richard Carrier and Robert M. Price have advanced this notion in their own publications. As our culture becomes increasingly hostile to the Christian Worldview, authors and filmmakers who depict Jesus as a fictional character will be ever more popular. If Jesus is like Barney or Yoda, there’s really no reason to listen to His teaching or embrace His message.

But Jesus is not like Barney or Yoda. The evidence for the historicity of Jesus is significant and compelling. Jesus is not a re-creation of early mythologies. His existence was confirmed by non-Biblical ancient historical sources and was accurately preserved over the centuries. Even the non-canonical authors affirm the true existence of Jesus.  The historical evidence for the existence of Jesus is so compelling and overwhelming, even an ardent agnostic skeptic like Bart Ehrman has written publicly about the topic (in an e-book entitled, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth). Ehrman may not be a Christian, but he know Jesus was a real historical character. The historicity of Jesus has been established by credible historians and critics, even if denied by popular authors and filmmakers.

You and I, as Christians, need to master the case for the historicity of Jesus. It matters. If Jesus really lived, he is a candidate for our attention, just like Ghandi, Emerson or Lennon. His words are more than clever fiction invented by an anonymous playwright or author. They are Jesus’ words of wisdom, captured for eternity. The historicity of Jesus matters because it allows us to talk about Jesus in a culture which only accepts real people as wise sages worthy of consideration. If we are allowed to talk about the way Ghandi’s wisdom impacted us on a personal level, we ought to be allowed to talk about how Jesus’ wisdom changed our lives. Jesus is a viable candidate because Jesus was a real person. That’s why the historicity of Jesus matters.

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Conversations About God (Part 1)

Nobody likes confrontation and nobody likes to be rejected, which is why I think so few people talk about God except when they’re in church, or when they post comments under a fake name in response to a blog they disagree with on some religious topic.

Truth is, face-to-face conversations with people are much more effective than communicating with others through social media or email or even over the phone. Yet this is precisely where most Christians have the hardest time when it comes to talking about their faith. What if you have a conversation with someone about God and they take offense or reject you outright? Neither option is a very pleasant prospect, so we end up talking with our neighbors and co-workers and relatives about the weather or sports or whatever political topic is in the news, and we reserve our God conversations for other Christians.

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Science and Faith: Are They Compatible?

The whole point of Darwinism is to explain the world in a way that excludes any role for a Creator. What is being sold in the name of science
is a completely naturalistic understanding of reality. (Phillip Johnson)

Scientists, philosophers, and theologians are pretty much agreed about this: it is the function of science to determine the facts of the universe; it is the function of religion to determine its meaning. But opinions about the origins of the universe diverge, and arguments become heated, over whether the Bible can be used as a source of scientific information. Secular scientists try to exclude biblical perspectives by limiting the inquiry to what can be tested in a laboratory. It is their position that any belief or theory with any hint of “supernatural” causes must be disregarded. Since God doesn’t appear in a telescope or under a microscope, these scientists reject from consideration any theory of a God-caused universe.

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The Cumulative Case for Christianity: Death By A 1,000 Paper Cuts

Following Dateline’s airing of our latest cold-case (“The Wire”), I received a number of concerned emails from viewers who felt there simply wasn’t enough evidence to be certain Douglas Bradford killed Lynne Knight. I think I can see their point. Dateline has done an excellent job chronicling four of our investigations, but our cases are nearly impossible to adequately represent in the limited time Dateline has to tell the stories. Why? Because our cases are complex, layered, cumulative, circumstantial cases. While I’ve written often about the nature of circumstantial evidence, one of the most evidential concepts related to our cold-cases is the role of cumulative arguments. When a large quantity of evidence point to the same suspect, the cumulative impact of this evidence can be powerful. Many of the individual facts and evidences may seem unimportant or trivial on their own, but when assembled as a set, their collective weight becomes unbearable. All my cold-cases are built in this way. We assemble dozens of facts, details, inferential statements and evidences and show the jury how the collective set of evidence implicates our suspect. I’ve often referred to this process sarcastically as “Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts”.

Defense attorneys typically respond to cumulative cases by focusing on those few pieces of evidence they believe to be the most damaging for their client. They then try to show how any number of other, unrelated causes might also explain these specific items of evidence. They want jurors to focus on the individual pieces rather than the collective set. In essence, they hope jurors will see the “trees” rather than the “forest” (and hopefully only a few of the trees, at that!) In the end, defense attorneys explain the evidences by way of many unrelated causes rather than by the simpler explanation: their client is the one causal factor who can account for all the evidence in the case. In many ways, it’s an “Ockham’s Razor” exercise. When one causal factor explains all the evidence in the case, that cause is the simplest (and most reasonable) explanation.

If you want to be a good Christian Case Maker (or you simply want to examine the case for Christianity for the first time), you’ll need to understand the power of cumulative cases. The Christian worldview is established in a collective manner: the reliability of the eyewitness Gospel accounts is built on more than one line of evidence. In fact, eyewitnesses are established based on four separate categories of evidence, expressed with four important questions: Where the eyewitnesses really present to see what they said they saw? Can their statements be corroborated or verified in some way? Have the eyewitnesses been honest and accurate over time? Do the eyewitnesses possess a bias or ulterior motive disqualifying them? These questions must be considered collectively. In addition to this, the case for each category is also made cumulatively. The issue of corroboration, for example is established on the basis of several unrelated lines of evidence including archaeology, ancient Jewish writings, ancient non-Christian Greek writings, geographic internal evidence, linguistic internal evidence, correct use of proper nouns, and the unintentional eyewitness support I describe in Cold-Case Christianity.

None of these individual elements corroborates the Biblical account on its own. They must be considered collectively. When a skeptic tries to attack the insufficiency of any single line of evidence for the Christian worldview, they are (like defense attorneys) asking the jury to ignore the implications of the collective case. They hope people will focus on a “tree” rather than the “forest”. They typically do their best to argue for an alternative explanation (or several alternative explanations) for each of these evidential facts. But the more reasonable explanation is much simpler: Christianity, if true, can explain all the evidence as the only causal factor. I’ve tried to illustrate the depth of the cumulative case for Christianity with a simple illustration (available as a free, downloadable Bible Insert on the homepage at www.ColdCaseChristianity.com):

 

When our cases are covered by Dateline, only a few evidences ever make the final edit. As a result, I often get notes from viewers who can’t understand how the jury convicted our suspect (even when some of these men later confessed to the crime!) But our juries never seem to struggle with their decision. Instead, they typically convict rather quickly. When jurors come to understand the power of a collective case, the decision is easy. The Christian worldview is also established cumulatively. If we can learn to communicate the strength of collective cases such as these, we’ll become better Christian Case Makers. If you’re examining the case for Christianity for the first time, don’t stop at the “tree-line”. Go deep. Look at everything. Assemble and assess the cumulative case.

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Life, Death, and Dignity

People are destined to die once.

Hebrews 9:27

People have funny ways of dealing with death. Some laugh at death, or at least make jokes about it. I love Woody Allen’s take: “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Others try to cheat death, although I don’t exactly know how that’s done. It’s not like death is a final exam. Oh wait, it is the final exam. So how do you cheat? Copy off someone else’s exam? What if the person you’re copying dies before you?

Some of those who aren’t into humor or cheating try to confront death by exercising so they’ll live longer. But that seems more like an exercise in futility. The gym I frequent is filled with older people who apparently are trying to make up for 60 or more years of potato chips and inactivity by riding a stationary cycle while reading the newspaper. Is this helping to stave off the grim reaper? Hard to say.

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Three Good Reasons to Celebrate Your Christian Worldview

I had the great honor of speaking at the National Religious Broadcasters Apologetics Conference two weeks ago, along with Frank Turek, Abdu Murray, Alex McFarland, Stephen C. Meyer, Ed Stetzer and Troy Miller. In case you weren’t aware, the NRB Network (available on Direct TV) features many Christian Case Making programs (including Cold-Case Christianity). Troy Miller is the President and CEO of the network, and with the help of Arline Bell (the Director of Programming), the network has forged a new path for Christian programming. This is definitely not your parent’s Christian television network. NRB TV is filled with great Christian teaching and Case Making programs. I am delighted to be a small part of the line-up. At lunch, Troy shared the results of a recent viewer survey in which people who watch the NRB Network reported what they liked about it. High on their list were two responses: When using a single word to describe what they enjoy about the programming, many viewers said “orthodoxy”. People who watch NRB TV love the fact the programs argue for an orthodox, conservative view of Christianity. In addition to this, many of the viewers said, “The NRB Network makes me proud to be a Christian.” That last statement was powerful for me. Although most of us, as Christians, tend to shrink away from talking about any form of “pride” (given its negative connotations in Scripture), I think I understand what the viewers meant by the statement. In a culture dominated by Christian programming seen as more embarrassing than praiseworthy and in a cultural environment where Christians are often portrayed as unintelligent and unthoughtful, the NRB Network provides examples of just the opposite. There are good reasons to celebrate our Christian worldview and to be “proud” (not of ourselves, but) of the God who created us:

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Can You Really Know God?

Is it possible to know God? Most people believe it is possible to know about God the way you know about any person, place, or thing. All it takes is a little research, such as reading a book about whatever it is you want to know about. So in the case of God, you could read the Bible. Or in the case of Allah, you could read the Qur’an. But what if you want to actually know God in the way you would know a spouse or a close friend?

Muslims take offense at the notion that a person can know God. To the Islamic mind, a human ability to know God would make God dependent on his creation. For this reason, Allah doesn’t reveal himself; he reveals his mashi’at (desires and wishes), but not himself. Since Muslims believe that people cannot know Allah, they don’t try.

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Resources to Help You Respond to Mormonism

I have six half brothers and sisters who were raised in the church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). When I first became interested in the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible, I committed myself to a simultaneous investigation of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. What I discovered kept me from becoming a Mormon. I hope some of these resources will help you investigate Mormonism as well (each article is printable and downloadable as a PDF file):

Resources Related to the Evidence Against Mormonism
Articles to help you examine the evidential claims of Mormonism:

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Your Children Don't Belong to You

There used to be a time when kids couldn’t wait to leave home. And we’re not talking about getting out of the house on Friday night for a date. In the not-too-distant past, when a son or daughter reached 18, it was goodbye mom and dad and hello world.

Plenty of kids do leave home for college, but increasingly they return once they graduate because they know mom will do the laundry and dad will pay the rent. Okay, so it’s not as simple as that. There are economic factors and a tight job market and all of that. We understand that sometimes a kid doesn’t have a choice but to once again come under mom and dad’s umbrella. But we often wonder if this tendency for children to return to the nest isn’t aided and abetted in some way by one or both parents.

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